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It will be observed that the greater part of this little 
book has been taken in one form or other from Lockhart's 
Life of Sir Walter Scott, in ten volumes. 'No introduction 
to Scott would be. worth much in which that course was 
not followed. Indeed, excepting Sir Walter's own writ- 
ings, there is hardly any other great source of information 
about him ; and that is so full, that hardly anything need- 
ful to illustrate the subject of Scott's life remains un- 
touched. As regards the only matters of controversy, — 
Scott's relations to the Ballantynes, I have taken care to 
check Mr. Lockhart's statements by reading those of the 
representatives of the Ballantyne brothers ; but with this 
exception, Sir Walter's own works and Lockhart's life 
of him are the great authorities concerning his character 
and his story. 

Just ten years ago Mr. Gladstone, in expressing to 
the late Mr. Hope Scott the great delight which the 
perusal of Lockhart's life of Sir Walter had given him, 
wrote, " I may be wrong, but I am vaguely under the 
impression that it has never had a really wide circulation. 
If so, it is the saddest pity, and I should greatly like 
(without any censure on its present length) to see pub- 
lished an abbreviation of it." Mr. Gladstone did not 
then know that as long ago as 1848 Mr. Lockhartdid 


himself prepare such an abbreviation, in which the ori- 
ginal eighty-four chapters were compressed into eighteen, 
— though the abbreviation contained additions as well as 
compressions. But even this abridgment is itself a 
bulky volume of 800 pages, containing, I should think, 
considerably more than a third of the reading in the ori- 
ginal ten volumes, and is not, therefore, very likely to be 
preferred to the completer work. In some respects I hope 
that this introduction may supply, better than that bulky 
abbreviation, what Mr. Gladstone probably meant to 
suggest, — some slight miniature taken from the great pic- 
ture with care enough to tempt on those who look on it 
to the study of the fuller life, as well as of that image of 
Sir Walter which is impressed by his own hand upon 
his works. 




Ajccestry, Parentage, AND Childhood . , . # 1 

Youth — Choice of a Profession 18 

Love and Marriage ,30 

Earliest Poetry and Border Minstrelsy ... 36 

Scott's Maturer Poems .44 



FdiST Country Homes 63 

Removal to Abbotsford, and Life there . • • 75 




Scott's Partnerships with the Ballantynes • . 84 

The Waverley Novels . . . ... • . 94 

Scott's Morality and Religion . . . • . 122 

Distractions and Amusements at Abbotsfohd . , . 128 

Scott and George IV 134 

Scott as a Politician ,139 

Scott in Adversity • ,148 

The Last Year • • 162 

The End of the Struggle ..•,,,, 172 




Sir "Walter Scott was the first literary man of a great 
riding, sporting, and fighting clan. Indeed, his father — 
a Writer to the Signet, or Edinburgh solicitor — was the 
first of his race to adopt a town life and a sedentary pro- 
fession. Sir Walter was the lineal descendant — six 
generations removed — of that Walter Scott commemo- 
rated in The Lay of the Last Minstrel, who is known 
in Border history and legend as Auld Wat of Harden. 
Auld Wat's son William, captured by Sir Gideon Murray, 
of Elibank,. during a raid of the Scotts on Sir Gideon's 
lands, was, as tradition says, given his choice between being 
hanged on Sir Gideon's private gallows, and marrying the 
ugliest of Sir Gideon's three ugly daughters, Meikle- 
mouthed Meg, reputed as carrying off the prize of ugliness 
among the women of four counties. Sir William was a hand- 
some man. He took three days to consider the alternative 
proposed to him, but chose life with the large-mouthed 
la,dy in the end ; and found her, according to the tradition 
which the poet, her descendant, has transmitted, an excel- 


lent wife, with a fine talent for pickling the beef which 
her hnsband stole from the herds of his foes. Meikle- 
monthed Meg transmitted a distinct trace of her large 
mouth to all her descendants, and not least to him 
who was to use his '' meikle " mouth to best advan- 
tage as the spokesman of his race. Eather more than 
half-way between Auld Wat of Harden's times — i. e,, 
the middle of the sixteenth century — and those of Sir 
Walter Scott, poet and novelist, lived Sir Walter's 
great-grandfather, Walter Scott generally known in 
Teviotdale by the surname of Beardie, because he would 
never cut his beard after the banishment of the Stuarts, 
and who took arms in their cause and lost by his intrigues 
on their behalf almost aU that he had, besides running 
the greatest risk of being hanged as a traitor. This was 
the ancestor of whom Sir Walter speaks in the intro- 
duction to the last canto of Marmion : — 

" AnJ. thus my Christinas still I hold, 
Where my great grandsire came of old. 
With amber beard and flaxen hair, 
And reverend apostolic air, — 
The feast and holy tide to share, 
And mix sobriety with wine. 
And honest mirth with thoughts divine ; 
Small thought was his in after time 
E'er to be hitch'd into a rhyme, 
The simple sire could only boast 
That he was loyal to his cost ; 
The banish'd race of kings revered. 
And lost his land — but kept his beard." 

Sir Walter inherited from Beardie that sentimental 
Stuart bias which his better judgment condemned, but 
which seemed to be rather part of his blood than of his 
mind. And most useful to him this sentiment un- 


doubtedly was in helping him to restore the mould and 
fashion of the past. Beardie's second son was Sir 
"Walter's grandfather, and to him he owed not only his 
first childish experience of the delights of country life, 
but also, — in his own estimation at least, — that risky, 
speculative, and sanguine spirit which had so much in- 
fluence over his fortunes. The good man of Sandy- 
Knowe, wishing to breed sheep, and being destitute of 
capital, borrowed 30Z. from a shepherd who was willing 
to invest that sum for him in sheep ; and the two set off 
to purchase a flock near Wooler, in Il^orthumberland ; 
but when the shepherd had found what he thought 
would suit their purpose, he returned to find his master 
galloping about a fine hunter, on which he had spent 
the whole capital in hand. Tliis speculation, however, 
prospered. A few days later Eobert Scott displayed 
the qualities of the hunter to such admirable efl'ect 
with John Scott of Harden's hounds, that he sold the 
horse for double the money he had given, and, unlike his 
grandson, abandoned speculative purchases there and 
then. In the latter days of his clouded fortunes, after 
BaUantyne's and Constable's failure. Sir Walter was accus- 
tomed to point to the picture of his grandfather and 
say, " Blood will out : my building and planting was 
but his buying the hunter before he stocked his sheep- 
walk, over again." But Sir Walter added, says Mr. 
Lockhart, as he glanced at the likeness of his own staid 
and prudent father, " Yet it was a wonder, too, for I have 
a thread of the attorney in me," which was doubtless the 
case ; nor was that thread the least of his inheritances, 
for from his father certainly Sir Walter derived that 
disposition towards conscientious, plodding industry, 
legalism of mind, methodical habits of work, and a 

B 2 


generous, equitable interpretation of the scope of all his 
obligations to others, which, prized and cultivated by 
him as they were, turned a great genius, which, espe- 
cially considering the hare-brained element in him, might 
easily have been frittered away or devoted to worth- 
less ends, to such fruitful account, and stamped it with 
so grand an impress of personal magnanimity and forti- 
tude. Sir Walter's father reminds one in not a few 
of the formal and rather martinetish traits which are 
related of him, of the father of Goethe, " a formal man, 
with strong ideas of strait-laced education, passionately 
orderly (he thought a good book nothing without a good 
binding), and never so much excited as by a necessary 
deviation from the ' pre-established harmony ' of house- 
hold rules." That description would apply almost wholly 
to the sketch of old Mr. Scott which the novelist has 
given us under the thin disguise of Alexander Fairford, 
Writer to the Signet, in Redgauntlet, a figure confessedly 
meant, in its cnief features, to represent his father. To 
this Sir Walter adds, in one of his later journals, the 
trait that his father was a man of fine presence, who con- 
ducted all conventional arrangements with a certain gran- 
deur and dignity of air, and " absolutely loved a funeral." 
" He seemed to preserve the list of a whole bead-roll of 
cousins merely for the pleasure of being at their 
funerals, which he was often asked to superintend, and 
I suspect had sometimes to pay for. He carried me with 
him as often as he could to these mortuary ceremonies; 
but feeling I was not, like him, either useful or ornamental, 
I escaped as often as I could." This strong dash of the 
conventional in Scott's father, this satisfaction in seeing 
people fairly to the door of life, and taking his final leave 
of them there, with something of a ceremonious flourish 


of observance, was, however, combined with a much 
nobler and deeper kind of orderliness. Sir Walter used 
to say that his father had lost no small part of a very 
flourishing business, by insisting that his clients should do 
their daty to their own people better than they were 
themselves at all inclined to do it. And of this generous 
strictness in sacrificing his own interests to his sympathy 
for others, the son had as much as the father. 

Sir Walter's mother, who was a Miss Eutherford, the 
daughter of a physician, had been better educated than 
most Scotchwomen of her day, in spite of having been 
sent *' to be finished off " by " the honourable Mrs. 
Ogilvie," whose training was so effective, in one direction 
at least, that even in her eightieth year Mrs. Scott could 
not enjoy a comfortable rest in her chair, but " took as 
much care to avoid touching her chaii* with her back, as if 
she had still been under the stern eyes of Mrs. Ogilvie." 
Xone the less Mrs. Scott was a motherly, comfortable 
woman, with much tenderness of heart, and a well-stored, 
vivid memory. Sir Walter, writing of her, after his 
mother's death, to Lady Louisa Stewart, says, " She had 
a mind peculiarly well stored with much acquired infor- 
mation and natural talent, and as she was very old, and 
had an excellent memory, she could draw, without the 
least exaggeration or afi"ectation, the most striking pictures 
of the past age. If I have been able to do anything 
in the way of painting the past times, it is very much 
from the studies with which she presented me. She 
connected a long period of time with the present generation, 
for she remembered, and had often spoken with, a person 
who perfectly recollected the battle of Dunbar and Oliver 
Cromwell's subsequent entry into Edinburgh." On the 
day before the stroke of paralysis which carried her oif, she 

6 . SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

Lad told Mr. and Mrs. Scott of Harden, ''with great 
accuracy, the real story of the Bride of Lammermnir, and 
pointed out wherein it differed from the novel. She had 
all the names of the parties, and pointed out (for she 
was a great genealogist) their connexion with existing 
families." ^ Sir Walter records many evidences of the 
tenderness of his mother's nature, and he returned 
warmly her affection for himself. His executors, in lifting 
up his desk, the evening after his hurial, found " arranged 
in careful order a series of little objects, which had 
obviously been so placed there that his eye might rest on 
them every morning before he began his tasks. These 
were the old-fashioned boxes that had garnished his 
mother's toilette, when he, a sickly child, slept in her 
dressing-room, — the silver taper-stand, which the young 
advocate had bought for her with his first fee, 
— a row of small packets inscribed with her hand, and 
containing the hair of those of her offspring that had died 
before her, — his father's snuff-box, and etui-case, — and 
more things of the like sort." ^ A story, characteristic 
of both Sir Walter's parents, is told by Mr. Lockhart which 
will serve better than anything I can remember to bring 
the father and mother of Scott vividly before the imagi- 
nation. His father, like Mr. Alexander Fairford, in 
Redgauntlet, though himself a strong Hanoverian, inhe- 
rited enough feeling for the Stuarts from his grandfather 
Beardie, and sympathized enough with those who were, as 
he neutrally expressed it, *' out in '45," to ignore as much 
as possible any phrases offensive to the Jacobites. For 
instance, he always called Charles Edward not the Pre- 

^ Lockliart's Life of Scott, vi. 172-3. The edition referred to is 
throughout the edition of 1839 in ten volumes. 
' Lockhart's Life of Scott, x. 241. 


tender but the Chevalier, — and lie did business for many 
Jacobites : — 

" Mrs. Scott's curiosity was strongly excited one autumn 
by tbe regular appearance at a certain bour every evening 
of a sedan cbair, to deposit a person carefully mnffled up in 
a mantle, who was immediately usbered into ber bnsband's 
private room, and commonly remained with bim tbere until 
long after tbe usual bed-time of this orderly family. Mr. 
Scott answered her repeated inquiries with a vagueness that 
irritated the lady's feelings more and more; until at last 
she could bear the thing no longer ; but one evening, jnst as 
she heard the bell ring as for the stranger's chair to carry 
him off, she made her appearance within the forbidden 
parlour with a salver in her hand, observing that she 
thought the gentlemen had sat so long they would be 
better of a dish of tfea, and had ventured accordingly to 
bring some for their acceptance. The stranger, a person of 
distinguished appearance, and richly dressed, bowed to the 
lady and accepted a cup ; but her husband knit his brows, 
and refused very coldly to partake the refreshment. A 
moment afterwards the visitor withdrew, and Mr. Scott, 
lifting up the window-sash, took the cup, which he had left 
empty on the table, and tossed it out upon the pavement. 
The lady exclaimed for her china, but was put to silence by 
her husband's saying, " I can forgive your little curiosity, 
madam, but you must pay the penalty. I may admit into 
m)^ house, on a piece of business, persons wholly unworthy 
to be treated as guests by my wife. Neither lip of me nor 
of mine comes after Mr. Murray of Broughton's.' 

" This was the uubappy man who, after attending Prince 
Charles Stuart as his secretary throughout the greater part 
of his expedition, condescended to redeem his own hfe and 
fortune by bearing evidence against the noblest of his late 
master's adherents, when — 

" Pitied by gentle hearts, Kilmarnock died. 
The brave, Balmerino were on thy side." ^ 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, i. 243-4. 


" Broughton's saucer " — i. e. the saucer belonging to the 
cup thus sacrificed by Mr. Scott to his indignation against 
one who had redeemed his own life and fortune by turn- 
ing king's evidence against one of Prince Charles Stuart's 
adherents, — was carefully preserved by his son, and hung 
up in his first study, or "den," under a little print of 
Prince Charlie. This anecdote brings before the mind 
very vividly the character of Sir Walter's parents. The 
eager cuiiosity of the active-minded woman, whom " the 
honourable Mrs. Ogilvie " had been able to keep upright 
in her chair for life, but not to cure of the desire to 
unravel the little mysteries of which she had a passing 
glimpse; the grave formality of the husband, fretting 
under his wife's personal attention to a dishonoured man, 
and making her pay the penalty by dashing to pieces the 
cup which the king's evidence had used, — again, the 
visitor himself, perfectly conscious no doubt that the 
Hanoverian lawyer held him in utter scorn for his faith- 
lessness and cowardice, and reluctant, nevertheless, to 
reject the courtesy of the wife, though he could not get 
anything but cold legal advice from the husband : — all 
these are figures which must have acted on the youthful 
imagination of the poet with singular vivacity, and shaped 
themselves in a hundred changing turns of the historical 
kaleidoscope which was always before his mind's eye, as 
he mused upon that past which he was to restore for us 
with almost more than its original freshness of life. With 
such scenes touching even his own home, Scott must 
have been constantly taught to balance in his own mind, 
the more romantic, against the more sober and rational 
considerations, which had so recently divided house 
against house, even in the same family and clan. That the 
stern Calvinistic lawyer should have retained so much of 


his grandfather Beardie's respect for the adherents of the 
exiled house of Stuart, must in itself have struck the boy 
as even more remarkable than the passionate loyalty of the 
Stuarts' professed partisans, and have lent a new sanction 
to the romantic drift of his mother's old traditions, and 
one to which they must have been indebted for a great 
part of their fascination. 

Walter Scott, the ninth of twelve children, of whom 
the first six died in early childhood, was born in Edin- 
burgh, on the 15th of August, 1771. Of the six later- 
born children, all but one were boys, and the one sister 
was a somewhat querulous invalid, whom he seems to have 
pitied almost more than he loved. At the age of eighteen 
months the boy had a teething-fever, ending in a life-long 
lameness ; and this was the reason why the child was sent 
to reside with his grandfather — the speculative grand- 
father, who had doubled his capital by buying a racehorse 
instead of sheep — at Sandy-Knowe, near the ruined tower 
of Smailholm, celebrated afterwards in his ballad of The 
Eve of St. John, in the neighbourhood of some fine crags. 
To these crags the housemaid sent from Edinburgh to 
look after him, used to carry him up, with a design 
(which she confessed to the housekeeper) — due, of 
course, to incipient insanity — of murdering the child 
there, and burying him in the moss. Of course the maid 
was dismissed. After this the child used to be sent out, 
when the weather was fine, in the safer charge of the 
shepherd, who would often lay him beside the sheep. 
Long afterwards Scott told Mr. Skene, during an excursion 
with Turner, the great painter, who was drawing his illus- 
tration of Smailholm tower for one of Scott's works, that 
" the habit of lying on the turf there among the sheep and 
the lambs had given his mind a peculiar tenderness for 

10 SIB, WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

these animals, which it had ever since retained." Being 
forgotten one day upon the knolls when a thunderstorm 
came on, his aunt ran out to bring him in, and found him 
shouting, "Bonny ! bonny !" at every flash of lightning. 
One of the old servants at Sandy-Knowe spoke of the 
child long afterwards as "a sweet-tempered bairn, a 
darling with all about the house," and certainly the 
miniature taken of him in his seventh year confirms the 
impression thus given. It is sweet-tempered above every- 
thing, and only the long upper lip and large mouth, 
derived from his ancestress, Meg Murray, convey the pro- 
mise of the power which was in him. Of course the high, 
almost conical forehead, which gained him in his later 
days from his comrades at the bar the name of " Old 
Peveril," in allusion to "the peak " which they saw towering 
high above the hsads of other men as he approached, is not 
so much marked beneath the childish locks of this minia- 
ture as it was in later life ; and the massive, and, in 
repose, certainly heavy face of his maturity, which con- 
veyed the impression of the great bulk of his character, is 
still quite invisible under the sunny ripple of childish 
earnestness and gaiety. Scott's hair in childhood was 
light chestnut, which turned to nut brown in youth. His 
eyebrows were bushy, for v/e find mention made of them as 
a "pent-house." His eyes were always light blue. They 
had in them a capacity, on the one hand, for enthu- 
siasm, sunny brightness, and even hare-brained humour, 
and on the other for expressing determined resolve and 
kindly irony, which gave great range of expression to 
the face. There are plenty of materials for judging what 
sort of a boy Scott was. In spite of his lameness, he early 
taught himself to clamber about with an agility that few 
children could have surpassed, and to sit his first pony — a 


little Shetland, not bigger than a large ^Newfoundland 
dog, which used to come into the house to be fed by him — 
even in gallops on very rough ground. He became very 
early a declaimer. Having learned the ballad of Hardy 
Knute, he shouted it forth with such pertinacious enthu- 
siasm that the clergyman of his grandfather's parish 
complained that he " might as well speak in a cannon's 
mouth as where that child was." At six years of age Mrs. 
Cockburn described him as the most astounding genius 
of a boy, she ever saw. "He was reading a poem to his 
mother when I went in. I made him read on: it was 
the description of a shipwreck. His passion rose with the 
storm. ' There's the mast gone,' says he ; ' crash it goes ; 
they will all perish.' After his agitation he turns to me, 
' That is too melancholy,' says he ; * I had better read 
you something more amusing.' " And after the call, he 
told his aunt he liked Mrs. Cockburn, for " she was a 
virtuoso like himself." " Dear Walter," says Aunt Jenny, 
" what is a virtuoso ? " " Don't ye know 1 Why, it's one 
who wishes and will know everything." This last scene 
took place in his father's house in Edinburgh ; but Scott's 
life at Sandy-Knowe, including even the old minister. Dr. 
Duncan, who so bitterly complained of the boy's ballad- 
spouting, is painted for us, as everybody knows, in the 
picture of his infancy given in the introduction to the 
third canto of Marmion : — 

" It was a barren scene and wild, 
Where naked cliffs were rudely piled : 
But ever and anon between 
Lay velvet tufts of loveliest green ; 
And well the lonely infant knew 
Recesses where the wall-flower grew, 
And honeysuckle loved to crawl 
Up the low crag and ruin'd wall. 


12 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

I deem'd such nooks the sweetest shade 

The sun in all its round survey'd ; 

And still I thought that shatter'd tower 

The mightiest work of human power ; 

And marvell'd as the aged hind 

With some strange tale bewitch'd my mind, 

Of foray ers, who, with headlong force, 

Down from that strength had spurr'd their horse, 

Their southern rapine to renew, 

Far in the distant Cheviots blue, 

And, home returning, fill'd the hall 

With revel, wassail-rout, and brawl. 

Methought that still with trump and clang 

The gateway's broken arches rang; 

Methoaght grim features, seam'd with scars, 

Glared through the window's rusty bars ; 

And ever, by the winter hearth. 

Old tales I heard of woe or mirth. 

Of lovers' slights, of ladies' charms, 

Of witches' spells, of warriors' arms. 

Of patriot battles, won of old 

By Wallace wight and Bruce the bold j 

Of later fields of feud and fight, 

When, pouring from their Highland height, 

The Scottish clans, in headlong sway. 

Had swept the scarlet ranks away. 

While, stretch'd at length upon the floor, 

Again I fought each combat o'er, 

Pebbles and shells in order laid. 

The mimic ranks of war display'd ; 

And onward still the Scottish lion bore, 

And still the scatter" d Southron fled before. 

Still, with vain fondness, could I trace 

Anew each kind familiar face 

That brighten' d at our evening fire ! 

From the thatch'd mansion's grey-hair'd sire. 

Wise without learning, plain and good. 

And sprung of Scotland's gentler blood ; 

Whose eye in age, quick, clear, and keen, 

Show'd what in youth its glance had been ; 

Whose doom discording neighbours sought, 

Content with equity unbought ; 


To him the venerable priest, 
Our frequent and familiar guest, 
Whose life and manners well could paint 
Alike the student and the saint ; 
Alas ! whose speech too oft I broke 
With gambol rude and timeless joke ; 
For I was wayward, bold, and wild, 
A self-will'd imp, a grandame's child ; 
But, half a plague and half a jest. 
Was still endured, beloved, caress'd." 

A picture this of a child of great spirit, though with 
that spirit was combined an active and subduing sweet- 
ness which could often conquer, as by a sudden spell, 
those whom the boy loved. Towards those, however, whom 
he did not love he qould be vindictive. His relative, 
the laird of Eaeburn, on one occasion wrung the neck of 
a pet starling, which the child had partly tamed. " I 
flew at his throat like a wild-cat," he said, in recalling 
the circumstance, fifty years later, in his journal on 
occasion of the old laird's death ; " and was torn from 
him with no little difficulty." And, judging from this 
journal, I doubt whether he had ever really forgiven the 
laird of Eaeburn. Towards those whom he loved but 
had offended, his manner was very different. "I seldom," 
said one of his tutors, Mr. Mitchell, " had occasion all the 
time I was in the family to find fault with him, even for 
trifles, and only once to threaten serious castigation, of 
which he was no sooner aware, than he suddenly sprang 
up, threw his arms about my neck and kissed me." And 
the quaint old gentleman adds this commentary : — " By 
such generous and noble conduct my displeasure was in a 
moment converted into esteem and admiration ; my soul 
melted into tenderness, and I was ready to mingle my 
tears with his." This spontaneous and fascinating sweet- 

14 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap- 

ness of Ms cliildhood was naturally oversliadowed to some 
extent in later life by Scott's masculine and proud cha- 
racter, but it was always in him. And there was 
much of true character in the child behind this sweet- 
ness. He had wonderful self-command, and a peremp- 
tory kind of good sense, even in his infancy. While yet 
a child under six years of age, hearing one of the servants 
beginning to tell a ghost-story to another, and well know- 
ing that if he listened, it would scare away his night's 
rest, he acted for himself with all the promptness of an 
elder person acting for him, and, in spite of the fasci- 
nation of the subject, resolutely muffled his head in the 
bed-clothes and refused to hear the tale. His sagacity 
in judging of the character of others was shown, too, even 
as a school-boy ; and once it led him to take an advan- 
tage which caused him many compunctions in after-life, 
whenever he recalled his skilful puerile tactics. On one 
occasion — I tell the story as he himself rehearsed it to 
Samuel Rogers, almost at the end of his life, after his 
attack of apoplexy, and just before leaving England 
for Italy in the hopeless quest of health — he had long 
desu'ed to get above a school-fellow in his class, who 
defied all his efforts, till Scott noticed that whenever a 
question was asked of his rival, the lad's fingers grasped 
a particular button on his waistcoat, while his mind went 
in search of the answer. Scott accordingly anticipated 
that if he could remove this button, the boy would be 
thrown out, and so it proved. The button was cut off, 
and the next time the lad was questioned, his fingers 
being unable to find the button, and his eyes going in 
perplexed search after his fingers, he stood confounded, 
and Scott mastered by strategy the place which he could 
not gain by mere industry. " Often in after-life," said 


Scott, in narrating the manoeuvre to Eogers, "has the sight 
of him smote me as I passed by him ; and often have I 
resolved to make him some reparation, but it ended in 
good resolutions. Though I never renewed my acquaint- 
ance with him, I often saw him, for he filled some inferior 
office in one of the courts of law at Edinburgh. Poor 
fellow ! I believe he is dead; he took early to drinking."^ 
Scott's school reputation was one of irregular ability ; he 
" glanced like a meteor from one end of the class to the 
other," and received more praise for his interpretation of 
the spirit of his authors than for his knowledge of their 
language. Out of school his fame stood higher. He 
extemporized innumerable stories to which his school- 
fellows delighted to listen ; and, in spite of his lameness, 
he was always in the thick of the "bickers," or street 
fights with the boys of the town, and renowned for his 
boldness in climbing the " kittle nine stanes " which are 
" projected high in air from the precipitous black granite 
of the Castle-rock." At home he was much bullied by his 
elder brother Eobert, a lively lad, not without some powers 
of verse-making, who went into the navy, then in an 
unlucky moment passed into the merchant service of the 
East India Company, and so lost the chance of distin- 
guishing himself in the great naval campaigns of kelson. 
Perhaps Scott would have been all the better for a sister 
a Kttle closer to him than Anne — sickly and fanciful — 
appears ever to have been. The masculine side of life 
appears to predominate a little too much in his school 
and college days, and he had such vast energy, vitality, 
and pride, that his life at this time would have borne a 
little taming under the influence of a sister thoroughly 

» Lockhart's Life of Scott, i. 128. 

16 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

congenial to him. In relation to his studies he was 
wilful, though not perhaps perverse. He steadily de- 
clined, for instance, to learn Greek, though he mastered 
Latin pretty fairly. After a time spent at the High 
School, Edinburgh, Scott was sent to a school at Kelso, 
where his master made a friend and. companion of him, 
and so poured into him a certain amount of Latin scholar- 
ship which he would never otherwise have obtained. I 
need hardly add that as a boy Scott was, so far as a boy 
could be, a Tory — a worshipper of the past, and a great 
Conservative of any remnant of the past which reformers 
wished to get rid of. In the autobiographical fragment 
of 1808, he says, in relation to these school-days, "I, 
with my head on tire for chivalry, was a Cavalier ; my 
friend was a Eoundhead ; I was a Tory, and he was a 
Whig; I hated Presbyterians, and admired Montrose 
with his victorious Highlanders; he liked the Presby- 
terian Ulysses, the deep and politic Argyle ; so that we 
never wanted subjects of dispute, but our disputes were 
always amicable." And he adds candidly enough : "In 
all these tenets there was no real conviction on my part, 
arising out of acquaintance with the views or principles 

of either party I took up politics at that 

period, as King Charles II. did his religion, from an idea 
that the Cavalier creed was the more gentlemanlike per- 
suasion of the two." And the uniformly amicable character 
of these controversies between the young people, itself 
shows how much more they were controversies of the 
imagination than of faith. I doubt whether Scott's con- 
victions on the issues of the Past were ever very much 
more decided than they were during his boyhood ; though 
undoubtedly he learned to understand much more pro- 
foundly what was really held by the ablest men on both 


sides of these disputed issaes. The result, however, was, 
I think, that while he entered better and better into both 
sides as life went on, he never adopted either with any 
earnestness of conviction, being content to admit, even 
to himself, that while his feelings leaned in one direction, 
his reason pointed decidedly in the other ; and holding 
that it was hardly needful to identify himself positively 
with either. As regarded the present, however, feeling 
always carried the day. Scott was a Tory all his life. 

18 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 



As ScoTT grew up, entered the classes of the college, and 
began his legal studies, first as apprentice to his father, 
and then in the law classes of the Univeisity, he became 
noticeable to all his friends for his gigantic memory, — the 
rich stores of romantic material with which it was loaded, 
— his giant feats of industry for any cherished purpose, — 
his delight in adventure and in all athletic enterprises, — 
his great enjoyment of youthful " rows," so long as they 
did not divide the knot of friends to which he belonged, 
and his skill in peacemaking amongst his own set. During 
his apprenticeship his only means of increasing his slender 
allowance with funds which he could devote to his 
favourite studies, was to earn money by copying, and he 
tells us himself that he remembered writing " 120 folio 
pages with no interval either for food or rest," fourteen 
or fifteen hours* very hard work at the very least, — 
expressly for this purpose. 

In the second year of Scott's apprenticeship, at about 
the age of sixteen, he had an attack of haemorrhage, 
no recurrence of which took place for some forty 
years, but which was then the beginning of the end. 
During this illness silence was absolutely imposed 
upon him, — two old ladies putting their fingers on 


their lips whenever he offered to speak. It was at this 
time that the lad began his study of the scenic side ol 
history, and especially of campaigns, which he illustrated 
for himself by the arrangement of shells, seeds, and 
pebbles, so as to represent encountering armies, in the 
manner referred to (and referred to apparently in anticipa- 
tion of a later stage of his life than that he was then speak- 
ing of) in the passage from the introduction to the third 
canto of Marmion which I have already given. He also 
managed so to arrange the looking-glasses in his room as 
to see the troops march out to exercise in the meadows, 
as he lay in bed. His reading was almost all in the 
direction of military exploit, or romance and me- 
diaeval legend and the later border songs of his own 
country. He learned Italian and read Ariosto. Later 
he learned Spanish and devoured Cervantes, whose 
" novelas^^ he said, " first inspired him with the ambition 
to excel in fiction;" and all that he read and admired 
he remembered. Scott used to illustrate the capricious 
affinity of his own memory for what suited it, and its 
complete rejection of what did not, by old Beattie of 
Meikledale's answer to a Scotch divine, who complimented 
him on the strength of his memory. " JSTo, sir," said the 
old Borderer, " I have no command of my memory. It 
only retains what hits my fancy ; and probably, sir, 
if you were to preach to me for two hours, I would not 
be able, when you finished, to remember a word you had 
been saying." Such a memory, when it belongs to a man 
of genius, is really a sieve of the most valuable kind. 
It sifts away what is foreign and alien to his genius, and 
assimilates what is suited to it. In his very last days, 
when he was visiting Italy for the first time, Scott delighted 
in Malta, for it recalled to him Yertot's Knights of Malta, 


20 SIE WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

and much other mediaeval story which he had pored over 
in his youth. But when his friends descanted to him at 
Pozzuoli on the Thermae — commonly called the Temple 
of Serapis — among the ruins of which he stood, he only 
remarked that he would believe whatever he was told, 
"for many of his friends, and particularly Mr. Morritt, 
had frequently tried to drive classical antiquities, as they 
are called, into his head, but they had always found his 
skull too thick." Was it not perhaps some deep literary 
instinct, like that here indicated, which made him, as a 
lad, refuse so steadily to learn Greek, and try to prove to 
his indignant professor that Ariosto was superior to 
Homer '? Scott afterwards deeply regretted this neglect 
of Greek ; but I cannot help thinking that his regret was 
misplaced. Greek literature would have brought before 
his mind standards of poetry and art which could not 
but have both deeply impressed and greatly daunted an 
intellect of so much power ; I say both impressed and 
daunted, because I believe that Scott himself would never 
have succeeded in studies of a classical kind, while he 
might — like Goethe perhaps — have been either misled, by 
admiration for that school, into attempting what was not 
adapted to his genius, or else disheartened in the work 
for which his character and ancestry really fitted him. 
It has been said that there is a real affinity between Scott 
and Homer. But the long and refluent music of Homer, 
once naturalized in his mind, would have discontented 
him with that quick, sharp, metrical tramp of his own moss- 
ti'oopers, to which alone his genius as a poet was per- 
fectly suited. 

It might be supposed that with these romantic tastes, 
Scott could scarcely have made much of a lawyer, though 
the inference would, I believe, be quite mistaken. His 


father, however, reproached him with being better fitted for 
a pedlar than a lawyer, — so persistently did he trudge over 
all the neighbouring counties in search of the beauties 
of nature and the historic associations of battle, siege, or 
legend. On one occasion when, with their last penny spent, 
Scott and one of his companions had returned to Edin- 
burgh, living during their last day on drinks of milk 
offered by generous peasant-women, and the hips and haws 
on the hedges, he remarked to his father how much he 
had wished for George Primrose's power of playing on the 
flute in order to earn a meal by the way, old Mr. Scott, 
catching grumpily at the idea, replied, "I greatly doubt, sir, 
you were born for nae better then a gangrel scrape-gut," — 
a speech which very probably suggested his son's concep- 
tion of Darsie Latimer's adventures with the blind fiddler, 
" Wandering Willie," in Redgauntlet. And, it is true that 
these were the days of mental and moral fermentation, 
what was called in Germany the Sturm-und-Drang, the 
" fret-and-fury " period of Scott's life, so far as one so 
mellow and genial in temper ever passed through a period 
of fret and fury at all. In other words these were the days 
of rapid motion, of walks of thirty miles a day which 
the lame lad yet found no fatigue to him ; of mad enter- 
prises, scrapes and drinking-bouts, in one of which Scott 
was half persuaded by his friends that he actually sang 
a song for the only time in his life. But even in these 
days of youthful sociability, with companions of his 
own age, Scott was always himself, and his imperious will 
often asserted itself. Writing of this time, some thirty- 
five years or so later, he said, " When I was a boy, and 
on foot expeditions, as we had many, no creature could be 
so indifferent which way our course was directed, and I 
acquiesced in what any one proposed ; but if I was once 

22 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

driven to make a choice, and felt piqued in honour to 
maintain my proiDosition, I have broken off from the 
whole party, rather than yield to any one." 'No doubt, 
too, in that day of what he himself described as " the 
silly smart fancies that ran in my brain like the bubbles 
in a glass of champagne, as brilliant to my thinldng, as 
intoxicating, as evanescent," solitude was no real depriva- 
tion to him ; and one can easily imagine him marching off 
on his solitary way after a dispute with his companions, 
reciting to himself old songs or ballads, with that 
" noticeable but altogether indescribable play of the upper 
lip," which Mr. Lockhart thinks suggested to one of 
Scott's most intimate friends, on his first acquaintance 
with him, the grotesque notion that he had been "a 
hautboy-player." This was the first impression formed 
of Scott by William Clerk, one of his earliest and life- 
long friends. It greatly amused Scott, who not only had 
never played on any instrument in his life, but could 
hardl}'" make shift to join in the chorus of a popular song 
without marring its effect ; but perhaps the im^Dression 
suggested was not so very far astray after all. Looking 
to the poetic side of his character, the trumpet certainly 
would have been the instrument that would have best 
symbolized the spirit both of Scott's thought and of his 
verses. Mr. Lockhart himself, in summing up his impres- 
sions of Sir Walter, quotes as the most expressive of his 
lines : — 

" Sound, sound the clarion ! fill the fife ! 
To all the sensual world proclaim, 
One crowded Lour of glorious life 
Is worth a world without a name." 

And undoubtedly this gives us the key-note of Scott's 
personal life as well as of his poetic power. Above every- 


thing he was high-spirited, a man of noble, and, at the same 
time, of martial feelings. Sir Francis Doyle speaks very 
justly of Sir "Walter as " among English singers the 
undoubted inheritor of that trumpet-note, which, under 
the breath of Homer, has made the wrath of Achilles 
immortal ;" and I do not doubt that there was something 
in Scott's face, and especially in the expression of his 
mouth, to suggest this even to his early college com- 
panions. Unfortunately, however, even "one crowded 
hour of glorious life " may sometimes have a " sensual " 
inspiration, and in these days of youthful adventure, too 
many such hours seem to have owed their inspiration 
to the Scottish peasant's chief bane, the Highland whisky. 
In his eager search after the old ballads of the Border, 
Scott had many a blithe adventure, which ended only too 
often in a carouse. It was soon after this time that he first 
began those raids into Liddesdale, of which aU the world 
has enjoyed the records in the sketches — embodied subse- 
quently in Guy Mannering — of Dandie Dinmont, his pony 
Dumple, and the various Peppers and Mustards from 
whose breed there were afterwards introduced into Scott's 
own family, generations of terriers, always named, as Sir 
Walter expressed it, after " the cruet." I must quote the 
now classic record of those youthful escapades : — 

" Eh me," said Mr. Shortreed, his companion in all these 
Liddesdale raids, " sic an endless fund of humour and drollery 
as he had then wi' him. Never ten yards but we were either 
laughing or roaring and singing. Wherever we stopped, how 
brawlie he suited himsel' to everybody ! He aye did as the 
lave did ; never made himsel' the great man or took ony airs 
in the company. I've seen him in a' moods in these jaunts, 
grave and gay, daft and serious, sober and drunk — (this, how- 
ever, even in our wildest rambles, was but rare) — ^but drunk 
or sober he was aye the gentleman. He looked excessively 

24 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

heavy and stupid when lie vfSisfoti, but lie was never out o' 
gude humour." 

One of the stories of that time will illustrate better 
the wilder days of Scott's youth than any comment : — 

" On reaching one evening," says Mr. Lockhart, some 
Charlieshope or other (I forget the name) among those wil- 
dernesses, they found a kindly reception as usual : but to 
their agreeable surprise, after some days of hard living, a 
measured and orderly hospitality as respected liquor. Soon 
after supper, at which a bottle of elderberry wine alone had 
been produced, a young student of divinity who happened to 
be in the house was called upon to take the ' big ha' Bible,' in 
the good old fashion of Burns' Saturday Night : and some 
progress had been already made in the service, when the good 
man of the farm, whose ' tendency,' as Mr. Mitchell says, 
* was soporific,' scandalized his wife and the dominie by start- 
ing suddenly from his knees, and rubbing his eyes, with a 

stentorian exclamation of * By ! here's the keg at last ! ' 

and in tumbled, as he spake the word, a couple of sturdy 
herdsmen, whom, on hearing, a day before, of the advocate's 
approaching visit, he had despatched to a certain smuggler's 
haunt at some considerable distance in quest of a supply of 
run brandy from the Solway frith. The pious * exercise ' of 
the household was hopelessly interrupted. With a thousand 
apologies for his hitherto shabby entertainment, this jolly 
Elliot or Armstrong had the welcome keg mounted on the 
table without a moment's delay, and gentle and simple, not 
forgetting the dominie, continued carousing about it until 
daylight streamed in upon the party. Sir "Walter Scott 
seldom failed, when I saw him in company with his Liddes- 
dale companions, to mimic with infinite humour the sudden 
outburst of his old host on hearing the clatter of horses 'feet, 
which he knew to indicate the arrival of the keg, the con- 
sternation of the dame, and the rueful despair with which 
the young clergyman closed the book."^ 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, i. 269-71. 


No wonder old Mr. Scott felt some doubt of his son's 
success at the bar, and thought him more fitted in many 
respects for a "gangrel scrape-gut."^ 

In spite of all this love of excitement, Scott became a 
sound lawyer, and might have been a great lawyer, had not 
his pride of character, the impatience of his genius, and 
the stir of his imagination rendered him indisposed to 
wait and slave in the precise manner which the preposses- 
sions of solicitors appoint. 

For Scott's passion for romantic literature was not at 
all the sort of thing which we ordinarily mean by boys' 
or girls' love of romance. No amount of drudgery or 
labour deterred Scott from any undertaking on the prose- 
cution of which he was bent. He was quite the reverse, 
indeed, of what is usually meant by sentimental, either in 
his manners or his literary interests. As regards the 
history of his own country he was no mean antiquarian. 
Indeed he cared for the mustiest antiquarian researches — 
of the mediaeval kind — so much, that in the depth of his 
troubles he speaks of a talk with a Scotch antiquary and 
herald as one of the things which soothed him most. 
" I do not know anything which relieves the mind so 
much from the sullens as trifling discussions about anti- 
quarian old icomanries. It is like knitting a stocking, 
diverting the mind without occupying it." ^ Thus his 
love of romantic literature was as far as possible from that of 
a mind which only feeds on romantic excitements ; rather 
was it that of one who was so moulded by the transmitted 
and acquired love of feudal institutions with all their inci- 
dents, that he could not take any deep interest in any other 

J Lockhart's Life of Scott, i. 206. 
2 Lockhart's Life of Scott, ix. 221. 

26 ■ SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

fashion of human society. Now the Scotch law was full 
of vestiges and records of that period, — was indeed a great 
standing monument of it ; and in numbers of his writings 
Scott shows with how deep an interest he had studied 
the Scotch law from this point of view. He remarks some- 
where that it was natural for a Scotchman to feel a strong 
attashment to the principle of rank, if only on the ground 
that almost any Scotchman might, under the Scotch law, 
turn out to he heir-in-tail to some great Scotch title or 
estate by the death of intervening relations. And the law 
which sometimes caused such sudden transformations, had 
subsequent^ a true interest for him of course as a novel 
writer, to say nothing of his interest in it as an antiqua- 
rian and historian who loved to repeople the earth, not 
merely with the picturesque groups of the soldiers and 
courts of the past, but with the actors in all the various 
quaint and homely transactions and puzzlements which 
the feudal ages had brought forth. Hence though, as a 
matter of fact, Scott never made much figure as an advo- 
cate, he became a very respectable, and might unquestion- 
ably have become a very great, lawyer. When he started 
at the bar, however, he had not acquired the tact to 
impress an ordinary assembly. In one case which he 
conducted before the General Assembly of the Kirk of 
Scotland, when defending a parish minister threatened 
with deposition for drunkenness and unseemly behaviour, 
he certainly missed the proper tone, — first receiving a 
censure for the freedom of his manner in treating the alle- 
gations against his client, and then so far collapsing under 
the rebuke of the Moderator, as to lose the force and ur- 
gency necessary to produce an effect on his audience. But 
these were merely a boy's mishaps. He was certainly by 
no means a Heaven-born orator, and therefore could not 


expect to spring into exceptionally early distinction, and 
the only true reason for his relative failure was that he 
was so full of literary power, and so proudly impatient of 
the fetters which prudence seemed to impose on his extra- 
professional proceedings, that he never gained the credit 
he deserved for the general common sense, the unwearied 
industry, and the keen appreciation of the ins and outs of 
legal method, which might have raised him to the highest 
reputation even as a judge. 

All readers of his novels know how Scott delights in 
the humours of the law. By way of illustration take the 
following passage, which is both short and amusing, in 
which Saunders Fairford — the old solicitor painted from 
Scott's father in Redgauntlet — descants on the law of 
the stirrup-cup. " It was decided in a case before the 
town bailies of Cupar Angus, when Luckie Simpson's cow 
had drunk up Luckie Jamieson's browst of ale, while it 
stood in the door to cool, that there was no damage to 
pay, because the crummie drank without sitting down ; 
such being the circumstance constituting a Doch an 
Dorroch, which is a standing drink for which no reckoning 
is paid." I do not believe that any one of Scott's con- 
temporaries had greater legal abilities than he, though, as 
it happened, they were never fairly tried. But he had 
both the pride and impatience of genius. It fretted him 
to feel that he was dependent on the good opinions of 
solicitors, and that they who were incapable of under- 
standing his genius, thought the less instead of the better 
of him as an advocate, for every indication which he gave 
of that genius. Even on the day of his call to the bar he 
gave expression to a sort of humorous foretaste of this 
impatience, saying to William Clerk, who had been called 
•with him, as he mimicked the air and tone of a Highland 

28 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

lass waiting at the Cross of Edinburgli to be hired for the 
harvest, " We've stood here an hour by the Tron, hinny, 
and deil a ane has speered our price." Scott continued to 
practise at the bar — nominally at least — for fourteen 
years, but the most wliich he ever seems to have made in 
any one year was short of 230Z., and latterly his practice 
was much diminishing instead of increasing. His own 
impatience of solicitors' patronage was against him ; his 
well-known dabblings in poetry were still more against 
him ; and his general repute for wild and unprofessional ad- 
venturousness — which was much greater than he deserved 
— was probably most of all against him. Before he had 
been six years at the bar he joined the organization of the 
Edinburgh Volunteer Cavalry, took a very active part in 
the drill, and was made their Quartermaster. Then he 
visited London, and became largely known for his 
ballads, and his love of ballads. In his eighth year 
at the bar he accepted a small permanent appointment, 
with 300Z. a year, as sheriff of Selkirkshire; and this 
occurring soon after his marriage to a lady of some 
means,, no doubt diminished still further his profes- 
sional zeal. Eor one third of the time during which 
Scott practised as an advocate he made no pretence of 
taking interest in that part of his work, though he was 
always deeply interested in the law itself. In 1806 he 
undertook gratuitously the duties of a Clerk of Session — 
a permanent officer of the Court at Edinburgh — and dis- 
charged them without remuneration for five years, from 
1806 to 1811, in order to secure his ultimate succession to 
the office in the place of an invalid, who for that 
period received aU the emoluments and did none of the 
work. Nevertheless Scott's legal abilities were so well 
known, that it was certainly at one time intended to offer 


him a Barony of the Exchequer, and it was his own doing, 
apparently, that it was not offered. The life of literature 
and the life of the Bar hardly ever suit, and in Scott's 
case they suited the less, that he felt himself likely to be 
a dictator in the one field, and only a postulant in the 
other. Literature was a far greater gainer by his choice, 
than Law could have been a loser. For his capacity for 
the law he shared with thousands of able men, his 
capacity for literature with few or none. 

30 SlPw WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 



One Sunday, about two years before bis call to tbe bar, 
Scott offered bis umbrella to a young lady of mucb 
beauty wbo was coming out of tbe Greyfriars Cburcb 
during a sbower ; tbe umbrella was graciously accepted ; 
and it was not an unprecedented consequence tbat Scott 
fell in love witb tbe borrower, who turned out to be 
Margaret, daughter of Sir Jobn and Lady Jane Stuart 
Belches, of Invernay. For near six years after this, 
Scott indulged the hope of marrying this lady, and it 
does not seem doubtful that the lady herself was in 
part responsible for this impression. Scott's father, who 
thought his son's prospects very inferior to those of Miss 
Stuart Belches, felt it his duty to warn the baronet of 
his son's views, a warning which the old gentleman 
appears to have received with that grand unconcern 
characteristic of elderly persons in high position, as a 
bint intrinsically incredible, or at least unworthy of 
notice. But he took no alarm, and Scott's attentions to 
Margaret Stuart Belches continued tiU close on the eve 
of her marriage, in 1796, to William Forbes (afterwards 
Sir William Forbes), of Pitsligo, a banker, who proved 
to be one of Sir Walter's most generous and most 
delicate-minded friends, when his time of troubles came 


towards the end of both their lives. Whether Scotfc was 
in part mistaken as to the impression he had made on 
the young lady, or she was mistaken as to the impression 
he had made on herself, or whether other circumstances 
intervened to cause misunderstanding, or the grand in- 
difference of Sir John gave way to active intervention 
when the question became a practical one, the world wdl 
now never know, but it does not seem very likely that 
a man of so much force as Scott, who certainly had at 
one time assured himself at least of the young lady's 
strong regard, should have been easily displaced even by 
a rival of ability and of most generous and amiable 
character. An entry in the diary which Scott kept in 
1827, after Constable's and Ballantyne's failure, and his 
wife's death, seems to me to suggest that there may have 
been some misunderstanding between the young people, 
though I am not sure that the inference is justified. 
The passage completes the story of this passion — Scott's 
first and only deep passion — so far as it can ever be 
known to us ; and as it is a very pathetic and charac- 
teristic entry, and the attachment to which it refers had 
a great influence on Scott's life, both in keeping him free 
from some of the most dangerous temptations of the 
young, during his youth, and in creating within him 
an interior world of dreams and recollections throughout 
his whole life, on which his imaginative nature was con- 
tinually fed — I may as well give it. " He had taken," 
says Mr. Lockhart, "for that winter [1827], the house 
No. 6, Shandwick Place, which he occupied by the 
month during the remainder of his servitude as a clerk 
of session. Yery near this house, he was told a few 
days after he took possession, dwelt the aged mother of 
his first love ; and he expressed to his friend INIrs. 

32 SIR WALTEE SCOTT. [chap. 

Skene, a wish that she should carry him to renew an 
acquaintance which seems to have been interrupted from 
the period of his youthful romance. Mrs. Skene com- 
plied with his desire, and she tells me that a very 
painful scene ensued." His diary says, — "November 
7th. Began to settle myself this morning after the hurry 
of mind and even of body which I have lately under- 
gone. I went to make a visit and fairly softened 
myself, like an old fool, with recalling old stories till 
I was fit for nothing but shedding tears and repeating 
verses for the whole night. This is sad work. The very 
grave gives up its dead, and time rolls back thirty years 
to add to my perplexities. I don't care. I begin to 
grow case-hardened, and like a stag turning at bay, 
my naturally good temper grows fierce and dangerous. 
Yet what a romance to tell — and told I fear it will one 
day be. And then my three years of dreaming and my 
two years of wakening will be chronicled, doubtless. But 
the dead will feel no pain. — !N'ovember 10th. At twelve 
o'clock I went again to poor Lady Jane to talli over old 
stories. I am not clear that it is a right or healthful 
indulgence to be ripping up old sores, but it seems to 
give her deep-rooted sorrow words, and that is a mental 
blood-letting. To me these things are now matter of calm 
and solemn recollection, never to be forgotten, yet scarce 
to be remembered with pain." ^ It was in 1797, after 
the break-up of his hopes in relation to this attachment, 
that Scott wrote the lines To a Violet^ which Mr. F. T. Pal- 
grave, in his thoughtful and striking introduction to Scott's 
poems, rightly characterize sas one of the most beautiful 
of those poems. It is, however, far from one character- 

* Lockhart's Life of Scott, is. 183-4. 


istic of Scott, indeed, so different in style from the best 
of his other poems, that Mr. Browning might well have 
said of Scott, as he once affirmed of himself, that for 
the purpose of one particular poem, he " who blows 
through bronze," had " breathed through silver," — had 
"curbed the liberal hand subservient proudly," — and 
tamed his spirit to a key elsewhere unknown. 

" The violet in her greenwood bower, 

Where birchen boughs with hazels miDg-le, 
May boast itself the fairest flower 
In glen, or copse, or forest dingle. 

" Though fair her gems of azure hue, 

Beneath the dewdrop's weight reclining, 
I've seen an eye of lovelier blue, 

More sweet through watery lustre shining. 

" The summer sun that dew shall dry, 
Ere yet the day be past its morrow ; 
Nor longer in my false love's eye 

Remained the tear of parting sorrow." 

These lines obviously betray a feeling of resentment, 
which may or may not have been justified ; but they are 
perhaps the most delicate produced by his pen. The 
pride which was always so notable a feature in Scott, pro- 
bably sustained him through the keen, inward pain which 
it is very certain from a great many of his own words that 
he must have suffered in tLis uprooting of his most pas- 
sionate hopes. And it was in part probably the same 
pride which led him to form, within the year, a new tie — 
his engagement to Mademoiselle Charpentier, or Miss 
Carpenter as she was usually called, — the daughter of a 
French royalist of Lyons who had died early in the revo- 
lution. She had come after her father's death to Eng- 
land, chiefly, it seems, because in the Marquis of Down- 


34 SIE WALTEE SCOTT. [chap. 

shire, who was an old friend of the family, her mother knew 
that she should find a protector for her children. Miss 
Carpenter was a lively beauty, probably of no great depth 
of character. The few letters given of hers in ]VIr. Lock- 
hart's life of Scott, give the impression of an amiable, 
petted girl, of somewhat thin and espiegle character, 
who was rather charmed at the depth and intensity of 
Scott's nature, and at the expectations which he seemed 
to form of what love should mean, than capable of realiz- 
ing them. Evidently she had no inconsiderable pleasure in 
display ; but she made on the whole a very good wife, only 
one to be protected by him from every care, and not one 
to share Scott's deeper anxieties, or to participate in his 
dreams. Yet Mrs. Scott was not devoid of spirit and self- 
control. For instance, when Mr. Jeffrey, having reviewed 
Marmion in the Edinhurgh in that depreciating and om- 
niscient tone which was then considered the evidence of 
critical acumen, dined with Scott on the very day on 
which the re^/iew had appeared, Mrs. Scott behaved to 
him through the whole evening with the greatest polite- 
ness, but fired this parting shot in her broken English, 
as he took his leave, — "Well, good night, Mr. Jeffrey, — 
dey tell me you have abused Scott in de Review, and I 
hope Mr. Constable has paid you very well for -writing 
it." It is hinted that Mrs. Scott was, at the time of 
Scott's greatest fame, far more exhilarated by it than her 
husband with his strong sense and sure self-measurement 
ever was. Mr. Lockhart records that Mrs. Grant of Laggan 
once said of them, " Mr. Scott always seems to me like a 
glass, through which the rays of admiration pass without 
sensibly affecting it ; but the bit of paper that lies beside 
ib will presently be in a blaze, and no wonder." The bit 
of paper, however, never was in a blaze that I know of; 


and possibly Mrs. Grant's remark may have had a little 
feminine spite in it. At all events, it was not till the rays 
of misfortune, instead of admiration, fell upon Scott's life, 
that the delicate tissue paper slirivelled up ; nor does it 
seem that, even then, it was the trouble, so much as a 
serious malady that had fixed on Lady Scott before Sir 
Walter's troubles began, which really scorched up her 
life. That she did not feel with the depth and intensity 
of her husband, or in the same key of feeling, is clear. 
After the failure, and during the preparations for abandon- 
ing the house in Edinburgh, Scott records in his diary : — 
"It is with a sense of pain that I leave behind a parcel 
of trumpery prints and little ornaments, once the pride 
of Lady Scott's heart, but which she saw consigned with 
indifference to the chance of an auction. Things that have 
had their day of importance with me, I cannot forget, 
though the merest trifles ; but I am glad that she, with 
bad health, and enough to vex her, has not the same use- 
less mode of associating recollections with this unpleasant 
business." ^ 

Poor Lady Scott ! It was rather like a bird of paradise 
mating with an eagle. Yet the result was happy on the 
whole j for she had a thoroughly kindly nature, and a true 
heart. Within ten days before her death, Scott enters in 
his diary : — " Still welcoming me with a smile, and assert- 
ing she is better." She was not the ideal wife for Scott ; 
but she loved him, sunned herself in his prosperity, and 
tried to bear his adversity cheerfully. In her last iUness 
she would always reproach her husband and children for 
their melancholy faces, even when that melancholy was, as 
she well knew, due to the approaching shadow of her own 

1 Lockiiart's Life of Scott, viii. 273. 
D 2 

36 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 



Scott's first serious attempt in poetry was a version of 
Biirger's Lenore, a spectre-ballad of the violent kind, 
niucli in favour in Germany at a somewhat earlier period, 
but certainly not a specimen of the higher order of ima- 
ginative genius. However, it stirred Scott's youthful 
blood, and made him " wish to heaven he could get a 
skull and two cross-bones !" a modest desire, to be ex- 
pressed with so much fervour, and one almost immediately 
gratified. Probably no one ever gave a more spirited 
version of Biirger's ballad than Scott has given ; but the 
use to which Miss Cranstoun, a friend and confidante of 
his love for Miss Stuart Belches, strove to turn it, by 
getting it printed, blazoned, and richly bound, and pre- 
senting it to the young lady as a proof of her admirer's 
abilities, was perhaps hardly very sagacious. It is quite 
possible, at least, that Miss Stuart Belches may have 
regarded this vehement admirer of spectral wedding 
joui-neys and skeleton bridals, as unlikely to prepare for 
her that comfortable, trim, and decorous future which 
young ladies usually desire. At any rate, the bold stroke 
failed. The young lady admired the verses, but, as we 
have seen, declined the translator. Perhaps she regarded 
banking as safer, if less brilliant work than, the most 


effective description of skeleton riders. Indeed, Scott at 
this time — to those -who did not know what was in him, 
which no one, not even excepting himself, did — had no 
very sure prospects of comfort, to say nothing of Avealth. 
It is curious, too, that his tirst adventure in literature was 
thus connected with his interest in the preternatural, for 
no man ever lived whose genius was sounder and healthier, 
and loss disposed to dwell on the lu\lf-and-hiilf lights of a 
dim and eerie world ; yet ghostly subjects always interested 
him deeply, and he often touched them in his stories, more, 
I think, from the strong artistic contrast they afforded to 
his favourite conceptions of life, than from any other 
motive. There never was, I fancy, an organization less 
susceptible of this oixi^* of fears and supei^titions than his 
own. "When a friend jokingly urged him, within a few 
months of his death, not to leave Eome on a Friday, as it 
was a day of bad omen for a journey, he replied, laughing, 
" Superstition is very pictiu'esque, and I make it, at times, 
stand me in great stead, but I never allow it to interfere 
with interest or convenience." Easil Hall reports Scott's 
having told him on the last evening of the year 1824, 
when they were talking over this subject, thi\t "having 
once arrived at a country inn, he was told there was no 
bed for him. 'Xo place to lie down at all?' said he. 
' Xo,' said the people of the house ; * none, except a room 
in which there is a corpse lying.' * "WeU,* said he, 'did 
the person die of any contagious disorder?' * Oh, no; 
not at all,' said they. ' WeU, then,' continued he, ' let 
me have the other bed. So,' said Sir "Wjilter, ' I laid me 
down, and never had a better night's sleep in my life.' " 
He was, indeed, a m;\n of iron nerve, whose truest lU'tistic 
enjojTuent was in noting the forms of charactQr seen in 
full davlight bv the light of the most ordinary experience. 

38 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

Pexhaps for that reason he can on occasion relate a 
preternatural incident, such as the appearance of old Alice 
at the fountain, at the very moment of her death, to the 
Master of Eavenswood, in The Bride of Lammermoor, 
with great effect. It was probably the vivacity with 
which he realized the violence which such incidents do to 
the terrestrial common sense of our ordinary nature, and 
at the same time the sedulous accuracy of detail with 
which he narrated them, rather than any, even the 
smallest, special susceptibility of his own brain to thrills 
of the preternatural kind, which gave him rather a unique 
pleasure in dealing with such preternatural elements. 
Sometimes, however, his ghosts are a little too muscular 
to produce their due effect as ghosts. In translating 
Biirger's ballad his great success lay in the vividness of the 
spectre's horsemanship. For instance, — 

" Tramp ! tramp ! along the land they rode, 
Splash ! splash ! along the sea ; 
The scourge is red, the spur drops blood, 
The flashing pebbles flee," 

is far better than any ghostly touch in it ; so, too, every 
one will remember how spirited a rider is the white Lady 
of Avenel, in The Monastery, and how vigorously she 
takes fords, — as vigorously as the sheriff himself, who was 
very fond of fords. On the whole, Scott was too sunny 
and healthy-minded for a ghost-seer ; and the skuU and 
cross-bones with which he ornamented his " den " in his 
father's house, did not succeed in tempting him into the 
world of twilight and cobwebs w^herein he made his first 
literary excursion. His William and Helen, the name he 
gave to his translation of Biirger's Lenore, made in 1795, 
was effective, after all, more for its rapid movement, than 
for the weirdness of its effects. 


If, however, it was the raw preternaturalism of such 
ballads as Burger's which first led Scott to test his own 
powers, his genius soon turned to more appropriate and 
natural subjects. Ever since his earliest college days he 
had been collecting, in those excursions of his into Lid- 
desdale and elsewhere, materials for a book on Tlie 
Mi?istrelsy of the Scottish Border ; and the publication of 
this work, in January, 1802 (in two volumes at first), was 
his first great literary success. The whole edition of eight 
hundred copies was sold within the year, while the skill 
and care which Scott had devoted to the historical illustra- 
tion of the ballads, and the force and spirit of his own new 
ballads, written in imitation of the old, gained him at 
once a very high literary name. And the name was well 
deserved. The Border Minstrelsy was more commen- 
surate in range with the genius of Scott, than even the 
romantic poems by which it was soon followed, and which 
were received with such universal and almost unparalleled 
delight. For Scott's Border 3Iinstrelsy gives more than a 
glimpse of all his many great powers — his historical in- 
dustry and knowledge, his masculine humour, his delight 
in restoring the vision of the " old, simple, violent world " 
of rugged activity and excitement, as well as that power 
to kindle men's hearts, as by a trumpet-call, which was 
the chief secret of the charm of his own greatest poems. 
It is much easier to discern the great novelist of sub- 
sequent years in the Border Minstrelsy than even in The 
Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and The Lady of the 
Lake taken together. From those romantic poems you 
would never guess that Scott entered more eagerly and 
heartily into the common incidents and common cares of 
every-day human life than into the most romantic for- 
tunes; from them you would never know how com- 

40 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

pletely lie had mastered the leading features of quite 
different periods of our history ; from them you would 
never infer that you had before you one of the best 
plodders, as well as one of the most enthusiastic dreamers, 
in British literature. But all this might have been 
gathered from the various introductions and notes to the 
Border Minstrelsy, which are full of skilful illustrations, 
of comments teeming with humour, and of historic weight. 
The general introduction gives us a general survey of the 
graphic pictures of Border quarrels, their simple violence 
and simple cunning. It enters, for instance, with grave 
humour into the strong distinction taken in the debatable 
land between a " freebooter " and a " thief," and the diffi- 
culty which the inland counties had in grasping it, and 
paints for us, with great vivacity, the various Border super- 
stitions. Another commentary on a very amusing ballad, 
commemorating the manner in which a blind harper stole 
a horse and got paid for a mare he had not lost, gives 
an account of che curious tenure of land, called that of 
the " king's rentallers," or " kindly tenants ;" and a third 
describes, in language as vivid as the historical romance 
of Kenilworth, written years after, the manner in which 
Queen Elizabeth received the news of a check to her 
policy, and vented her spleen on the King of Scotland. 

So much as to the breadth of the literary area which 
this first book of Scott's covered. As regards the poetic 
power which his own new ballads, in imitation of the 
old ones, evinced, I cannot say that those of the first 
issue of the Border Minstrelsy indicated anything like the 
force which might have been expected from one who was 
so soon to be the author of Ifannion, though many of 
Scott's warmest admirers, including Sir Francis Doyle, 
eeem to place Glenjinlas among his finest productions. But 


in the third volume of the Border Minstrelsy , which did 
not appear till 1803, is contained a ballad on the assas- 
sination of the Eegent Murray, the story being told 
by his assassin, which seems to me a specimen of his very 
highest poetical powers. In Cadyow Castle you have not 
only that rousing trumpet-note which you hear in Mar- 
mion, but the pomp and glitter of a grand martial scene is 
painted with all Scott's peculiar terseness and vigour. 
The opening is singularly happy in preparing the reader 
for the description of a violent deed. The Earl of Arran, 
chief of the clan of Hamiltons, is chasing among the old 
oaks of Cadyow Castle, — oaks which belonged to the 
ancient Caledonian forest, — the fierce, wild bulls, milk- 
white, with black muzzles, which were not extirpated till 
shortly before Scott's own birth : — 

" Through the huge oaks of Evandale, 

Whose limbs a thousand years have worn, 
What sullen roar comes down the gale, 
And drowns the hunter's pealing horn ? 

" Mightiest of all the beasts of chase 
That roam in woody Caledon, 
Crashing the forest in his race, 

The mountain bull comes thundering on. 

"Fierce on the hunter's quiver' d band 
He rolls his eyes of swarthy glow. 
Spurns, with black hoof and horn, the sand. 
And tosses high his mane of snow. 

" Aim'd well, the chieftain's lance has flown ; 
Struggling in blood the savage lies ; 
His roar is sunk in hollow groan, — 

Sound, merry huntsman ! sound the pryse ! " 

It is while the hunters are resting after this feat, that 
Bothwellhaugh dashes among them headlong, spurrin 
his jaded steed with poniard instead of spur : — 


42 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

" From gory selle and reeling steed, 

Sprang the fierce horseman with a bound, 
And reeking from the recent deed. 
He dash'd his carbine on the ground." 

And then Bothwellliaugh tells his tale of blood, describ- 
ing the procession from which he had singled out his 
prey :— 

" ' Dark Morton, girt with many a spear. 
Murder's foul minion, led the van ; 
And clash'd their broadswords in the rear 
The wild Macfarlanes' plaided clan. 

•' * Glencairn and stout Parkhead were nigh, 
Obsequious at their Regent's rein. 
And haggard Lindsay's iron eye, 
That saw fair Mary weep in vain. 

" * 'Mid pennon'd spears, a steely grove, 
Proud Murray's plumage floated high ; 
Scarce could his trampling charger move, 
So close the minions crowded nigh. 

*' * From the raised vizor's shade, his eye. 
Dark rolling, glanced the ranks along, 
And his steel truncheon waved on high, 
Seem'd marshalling the iron throng. 

(C ( 

But yet his sadden'd brow confess'd 

A passing shade of doubt and awe ; 
Some fiend was whispering in his breast, 

" Beware of injured Bothwellhaugh ! " 

" * The death-shot parts, — the charger springs, — 
Wild rises tumult's startling roar! 
And Murray's plumy helmet rings — 
Rings on the ground to rise no more.' " 

This was the ballad which made so strong an impression 
on Thomas Campbell, the poet. Eeferring to some of the 


lines I have quoted, Campbell said, — " I have repeated 
them so often on the North Bridge that the whole frater- 
nity of coachmen know me by tongue as I pass. To be 
sure, to a mind in sober, serious, street-walking humour, it 
must bear an appearance of lunacy when one stamps with 
the hurried pace and fervent shake of the head which 
strong, pithy poetry excites."* I suppose anecdotes of 
this kind have been oftener told of Scott than of any 
other English poet. Indeed, Sir Walter, who understood 
himself well, gives the explanation in one of his diaries : — 
" I am sensible," he says, " that if there be anything good 
about my poetry or prose either, it is a hurried frankness 
of composition, which pleases soldiers, sailors, and young 
people of bold and active dispositions."^ He might have 
included old people too. I have heard of two old men — 
complete strangers — passing each other on a dark London 
night, when one of them happened to be repeating to him- 
self, just as Campbell did to the hackney coachmen of the 
North Bridge of Edinburgh, the last lines of the account 
of Flodden Field in Marmion, " Charge, Chester, charge," 
when suddenly a reply came out of the darkness, " On, 
Stanley, on," whereupon they finished the death of Mar- 
mion between them, took off their hats to each other, and 
parted, laughing. Scott's is almost -the only poetry 
in the English language that not only runs thus in the 
head of average men, but heats the head in which it 
runs by the mere force of its hurried frankness of 
style, to use Scott's own terms, or by that of its strong 
and pithy eloquence, as Campbell phrased it. And in 
Cadyow Castle this style is at its culminating point. 

* Lockhart's Life of Scott, ii. 79. 
2 Lockhart's Life of Scott, viii. 370. 

44 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 



Scott's genius flowered late. Cadyow Castle, the first of 
his poems, I think, that has indisputable genius plainly 
stamped on its terse and fiery lines, was composed in 1802, 
when he was already thirty-one years of age. It was in 
the same year that he wrote the first canto of his first 
great romance in verse, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, a 
poem which did not appear till 1805, when he was thirty- 
four. The first canto (not including the frame V70rk, of 
which the aged, harper is the principal figure) was written 
in the lodgings to which he was confined for a fortnight 
in 1802, hy a kick received from a horse on Portobello 
sands, during a charge of the Volunteer Cavalry in which 
Scott was cornet. The poem was originally intended to 
be included in the Border Minstrelsy, as one of the 
studies in the antique style, but soon outgrew the limits of 
such a study both in length and in the freedom of its 
manner. Both the poorest and the best parts of TJie Lay 
were in a special manner due to Lady Dalkeith (afterwards 
Duchess of Buccleugh), who suggested it, and in whose 
honour the poem was written. It was she who requested 
Scott to write a poem on the legend of the goblin 
page, Gilpin Horner, and this Scott attempted, — and, 
80 far as the goblin himself was concerned, conspicuously 


failed. He himself clearly saw that the story of this 
unmanageable imp was both confused and uninteresting, 
and that in fact he had to extricate himself from the 
original groundwork of the tale, as from a regular literary 
scrape, in the best way he could. In a letter to Miss 
Seward, Scott says, — " At length the story appeared so 
uncouth that I was fain to put it into the mouth of my 
old minstrel, lest the nature of it should be misunder- 
stood, and I should be suspected of setting up a new 
school of poetry, instead of a feeble attempt to imitate the 
old. In the process of the romance, the page, intended 
to be a principal person in the work, contrived (from 
the baseness of his natural propensities, I suppose) to slink 
down stairs into the kitchen, and now he must e'en abide 
there." ^ And I venture to say that no reader of the poem 
ever has distinctly understood what the goblin page did or 
did not do, what it was that was " lost " throughout the 
poem and " found " at the conclusion, what was the object 
of his personating the young heir of the house of Scott, 
and whether or not that object was answered ; — what use, 
if any, the magic book of Michael Scott was to the Lady 
of Branksome, or whether it was only harm to her ; and I 
doubt moreover whether any one ever cared an iota what 
answer, or whether any answer, might be given to any of 
these questions. All this, as Scott himself clearly per- 
ceived, was left confused, and not simply vague. The 
goblin imp had been more certainly an imp of mischief to 
him than even to his boyish ancestor. But if Lady 
Dalkeith suggested the poorest part of the poem, she 
certainly inspired its best part. Scott says, as we have 
seen, that he brought in the aged harper to save himself 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, ii. 217. 

46 SIE WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

from the imputation of "setting up a new school of 
poetry " instead of humbly imitating an old school. But 
I think that the chivalrous wish to do honour to Lady 
Dalkeith, both as a personal friend and as the wife of his 
" chief," — as he always called the head of the house of 
Scott, — had more to do with the introduction of the aged 
harper, than the wish to guard himseK against the impu- 
tation of attempting a new poetic style. He clearly 
intended the Duchess of The Lay to represent the 
Countess for whom he wrote it, and the aged harper, with 
his reverence and gratitude and self-distrust, was only the 
disguise in which he felt that he could best pour out his loy- 
alty, and the romantic devotion with which both Lord and 
Lady Dalkeith, but especially the latter, had inspired him. 
It was certainly this beautiful framework which assured 
the immediate success and permanent charm of the poem ; 
and the immediate success was for that day something 
marvellous. The magnificent quarto edition of 750 copies 
was soon exhaui^ted, and an octavo edition of 1500 copies 
was sold out within the year. In the following year two 
editions, containing together 4250 copies, were disposed 
of, and before twenty-five years had elapsed, that is, before 
1830, 44,000 copies of the poem had been bought by the 
public in this country, taking account of the legitimate 
trade alone. Scott gained in all by The Lay 76 9 Z., an 
unprecedented sum in those times for an author to obtain 
from any poem. Little more than half a century before, 
Johnson received but fifteen guineas for his stately poem 
on Tlie Vanity of Human Wishes, and but ten guineas for 
his London. I do not say that Scott's poem had not much 
more in it of true poetic fire, though Scott himself, I 
believe, preferred these poems of Johnson's to anything 
that he himself ever wrote. But the disproportion in 


the reward was certainly enormous, and yet what Scott 
gained by his Lay was of course much less than he 
gained hy any of his subsequent poems of equal, or any- 
thing hke equal, length. Thus for Marmion he received 
1000 guineas long before the poem was published, and 
for one half of the copyright of The Lord of the Isles 
Constable paid Scott 1500 guineas. If we ask ourselves to 
what this vast popularity of Scott's poems, and especially 
of the earlier of them (for, as often happens, he was better 
remunerated for his later and much inferior poems than 
for his earlier and more brilliant productions) is due, I 
think the answer must be for the most part, the high 
romantic glow and extraordinary romantic simplicity of the 
poetical elements they contained. Take the old harper 
of The Lay, a figure which arrested the attention of Pitt 
during even that last most anxious year of his anxious life, 
the year of Ulm and Austerlitz. The lines in which Scott 
describes the old man's embarrassment when first urged 
to play, produced on Pitt, according to his own account, 
" an effect which I might have expected in painting, but 
could never have fancied capable of being given in poetry." i 
Every one knows the lines to which Pitt refers : — 

" The humble boon was soon obtain'd j 
The aged minstrel audience gain'd. 
But, when he reach'd the room of state, 
Where she with all her ladies sate, 
Perchance he wish'd his boon denied ; 
For, when to tune the harp he tried, 
His trembling hand had lost the ease 
Which marks security to please ; 
And scenes long past, of joy and pain, 
Came wildering o'er his aged brain, — 
He tried to tune his harp in vain ! 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, ii. 226. 

48 Sm WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

The pitying Duchess praised its chime, 
And gave him heart, and gave him time, 
Till every string's according glee 
Was blended into harmony. 
And then, he said, he would full fain 
He could recall an ancient strain 
He never thought to sing again. 
It was not framed for village churls. 
But for high dames and mighty earls ; 
He'd play'd it to King Charles the Good, 
When he kept Court at Holyrood ; 
And much he wish'd, yet fear'd, to try 
The long-forgotten melody. 
Amid the strings his fingers strayed, 
And an uncertain warbling made, 
And oft he shook his hoary head. 
But when he caught the measure wild 
The old man raised his face, and smiled ; 
And lighten' d up his faded eye, 
With all a poet's ecstasy ! 
In varying cadence, soft or strong. 
He swept the sounding chords along; 
The present scene, the future lot, 
His toils, his wants, were all forgot ; 
Cold diffidence and age's frost 
In the full tide of song were lost ; 
Each blank in faithless memory void 
The poet's glowing thought supplied ; 
And, while his harp responsive rung, 
'Twas thus the latest minstrel sung. 

Here paused the harp ; and with its swell 
The master's fire and courage fell ; 
Dejectedly and low he bow'd. 
And, gazing timid on the crowd, 
He seem'd to seek in every eye 
If they approved his minstrelsy ; 
And, diffident of present praise, 
Somewhat he spoke of former days, 
And how old age, and wandering long, 
Had done his hand and harp some wrong." 


Tliese lines hardly illustrate, I think, the particular form 
of Mr. Pitt's criticism, for a quick succession of fine 
shades of feeling of this kind could never have been 
delineated in a painting, or indeed in a series of paintings, 
at all, while they are so given in the poem. But the 
praise itself, if not its exact form, is amply deserved. 
The singular depth of the romantic glow in this passage, 
and its equally singular simplicity, — a simplicity which 
makes it intelligible to every one, — are conspicuous to 
every reader. It is not what is called classical poetry, for 
there is no severe outline, — no sculptured completeness 
and repose, — no satisfying wholeness of effect to the eye 
of the mind, — no embodiment of a great action. The poet 
gives us a breath, a ripple of alternating fear and hope in 
the heart of an old man, and that is all. He catches an 
emotion that had its roots deep in the past, and that is 
striving onward towards something in the future ; — ^he 
traces the wistfulness and self-distrust with which age seeks 
to recover the feelings of youth, — the delight with which it 
greets them when they come, — the hesitation and diffi- 
dence with which it recalls them as they pass away, and 
questions the triumph it has just won, — and he paints all 
this without subtlety, without complexity, but with a 
swiftness such as few poets ever surpassed. Generally, 
however, Scott prefers action itself for his subject, to any 
feeling, however active in its bent. The cases in which 
he makes a study of any mood of feeling, as he does of 
this harper's feeling, are comparatively rare. Deloraine's 
night-ride to Melrose is a good deal more in Scott's 
ordinary way, than this study of the old harper's wistful 
mood. But whatever his subject, his treatment of it 
is the same. His lines are always strongly drawn ; 
his handling is always simple; and his subject always 


50 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

romantic. But though romantic, it is simple almost to 
bareness, — one of the great causes both of his popularity, 
and of that deficiency in his poetry of which so many 
of his admirers become conscious when they compare him 
with other and richer poets. Scott used to say that in 
poetry Byron " bet " him ; and no doubt that in which 
chiefly as a poet he " bet " him, was in the variety, the 
richness, the lustre of his effects. A certain ruggedness 
and bareness was of the essence of Scott's idealism and 
romance. It was so in relation to scenery. He told 
Washington Irving that he loved the very nakedness of 
the Border country. " It has something," he said, " bold 
and stern and solitary about it. When I have been for 
some time in the rich scenery about Edinburgh, which 
is like ornamented garden-land, I begin to wish myself 
back again among my honest grey hills, and if I did not 
see the heather at least once a year, / think I sliould die" * 
Now, the bareness which Scott so loved in his native 
scenery, there is in all his romantic elements of feeling. 
It is while he is bold and stern, that he is at his highest 
ideal point. Directly he begins to attempt rich or pretty 
subjects, as in parts of The Lady of the Lake^ and a good 
deal of The Lord of the Isle% and still more in The Bridal 
of Triermain, his charm disappears. It is in painting 
those moods and exploits, in relation to which Scott 
shares most completely the feelings of ordinary men, but 
experiences them with far greater strength and purity 
than ordinary men, that he triumphs as a poet. Mr. 
Lockhart tells us that some of Scott's senses were de- 
cidedly "blunt," and one seems to recognize this in the 
simplicity of his romantic effects. " It is a fact," he says, 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, v. 248. 


"which some philosophers may think worth setting 
down, that Scott's organization, as to more than one of 
the senses, was the reverse of exquisite. He had very 
little of what musicians call an ear ; his smell was hardly 
more delicate. I have seen him stare ahout, quite un- 
conscious of the cause, when his whole company betrayed 
their uneasiness at the approach of an overkept haunch 
of venison ; and neither by the nose nor the palate could 
he distinguish corked wine from sound. He could never 
tell Madeira from sherry, — nay, an Oriental friend 
having sent him a butt of sJieeraz, when he remembered 
the circumstance some time afterwards and called for a 
bottle to have Sir John Malcolm's opinion of its quality, 
it turned out that his butler, mistaking the label, had 
already served up half the bin as sherry. Port he con- 
sidered as physic .... in truth he liked no wines 
except sparkling champagne and claret ; but even as to 
the last he was no connoisseur, and sincerely preferred a 
tumbler of whisky-toddy to the most precious * liquid- 
ruby * that ever flowed in the cup of a prince." ^ 

However, Scott's eye was very keen : — " It ivas com- 
monly tiim^'' as his little son once said, " tliat saw the 
hare sitting." And his perception of colour was very 
delicate as well as his mere sight. As Mr. Euskin has 
pointed out, his landscape painting is almost all done by 
the lucid use of colour. Nevertheless this bluntness 
of organization in relation to the less important senses, 
no doubt contributed something to the singleness and sim- 
plicity of the deeper and more vital of Scott's romantic 
impressions ; at least there is good reason to suppose that 
delicate and complicated susceptibilities do at least 

» Lockhart's Life of Scott, r. 338, 
E 2 

52 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

diminish the chance of living a strong and concentrated 
life — do risk the frittering away of feeling on the mere 
backwaters of sensations, even if they do not directly 
tend towards artificial and indirect forms of character. 
Scott's romance is like his native scenery, — bold, bare 
and rugged, with a swift deep stream of strong pure 
feeling running through it. There is plenty of colour 
in his pictures, as there is on the Scotch hills when the 
heather is out. And so too there is plenty of intensity 
in his romantic situations ; but it is the intensity of 
simple, natural, unsophisticated, hardy, and manly charac- 
ters. Eut as for subtleties and fine shades of feeling in 
his poems, or anything like the manifold harmonies of the 
richer arts, they are not to be found, or, if such 
complicated shading is to be found — and it is perhaps 
attempted in some faint measure in The Bridal of Trier- 
main, the poem in which Scott tried to pass himself off 
for Erskine,--it is only at the expense of the higher 
qualities of his romantic poetry, that even in this small 
measure it is supplied. Again, there is no rich music in 
his verse. It is its rapid onset, its hurrying strength, 
which so fixes it in the mind. 

It was not till 1808, three years after the publication of 
The Lay, that Marmion, Scott's greatest poem, was pub- 
lished. But I may as well say what seems necessary of that 
and his other poems, while I am on the subject of his 
poetry. Marmion has all the advantage over The Lay of 
the Last Minstrel that a coherent story told with force and 
fulness, and concerned with the same class of subjects as 
The Lay, must have over a confused and ill-managed 
kgend, the only original purpose of which was to serve 
as the opportunity for a picture of Border life and strife. 
Scott's poems have sometimes been depreciated as mere 


novelettes in verse, and I think that some of them may be 
more or less liable to this criticism. For instance, Tlie 
Lady of the Lake, with the exception of two or three 
brilliant passages, has always seemed to me more of a yqv- 
si^Qdi novelette, — without the higher and broader character- 
istics of Scott's prose novels — than of a poem. I suppose 
what one expects from a poem as distinguished from a 
romance — even though the poem incorporates a story — is 
that it should not rest for its chief interest on the mere 
development of the story ; but rather that the narrative 
should be quite subordinate to that insight into the deeper 
side of life and manners, in expressing which poetry has 
so great an advantage over prose. Of The Lay and Mar- 
mion this is true ; less true of The Lady of the Lake, and 
still less of Rokehy, or The Lord of the Isles, and this is 
why The Lay and Marmion seem so much superior as 
poems to the others. They lean less on the interest of 
mere incident, more on that of romantic feeling and the 
great social and historic features of the day. Marmion was 
composed in great part in the saddle, and the stir of a 
charge of cavalry seems to be at the very core of it. 
" For myself," said Scott, writing to a lady correspondent 
at a time when he was in active service as a volunteer, " I 
must own that to one who has, like myself, la tete un pen 
exaltee, the pomp and circumstance of war gives, for a 
time, a very poignant and pleasing sensation." * And you 
feel this all through Marmion even more than in The Lay. 
Mr. Darwin would probably say that Auld Wat of Har- 
den had about as much responsibility for Marmion as Sir 
Walter himself. " You will expect," he wrote to the same 
lady, who was personally unknown to him at that time, 

' Lockhart's Life of Scott, ii. 137. 


" to see a person who had dedicated himself to literary pur- 
suits, and you will find me a rattle-skulled, half-lawyer, 
half-sportsman, through whose head a regiment of horse 
has been exercising since he was five years old." ^ And what 
Scott himself felt in relation to the martial elements of his 
poetry, soldiers in the field felt with equal force. *' In the 
course of the day when The Lady of the Lake first reached 
Sir Adam Fergusson, he was posted with his company 
on a point of ground exposed to the enemy's artillery, some- 
where no doubt on the lines of Torres Yedras. The men 
were ordered to lie prostrate on the ground ; while they 
kept that attitude, the captain, kneeling at the head, read 
aloud the description of the battle in Canto VI., and the 
listening soldiers only interrupted him by a joyous huzza 
when the French shot struck the bank close above them." ^ 
It is not often that martial poetry has been put to such a 
test j but we can well understand with what rapture a 
Scotch force lying on the ground to shelter from the French 
fire, would enter into such passages as the foUowing : — 

*' Their light-arm'd archers far and near 

Survey' d the tangled ground, 
Their centre ranks, with pike and spear, 

A twilight forest frown' d, 
Their barbed horsemen, in the rear, 

The stern battalia crown'd. 
No cymbal clash' d, no clarion rang, 

Still were the pipe and drum ; 
Save heavy tread, and armour's clang, 

The sullen march was dumb. 
There breathed no wind their crests to shake, 

Or wave their flags abroad ; 
Scarce the frail appen seem'd to quake, 

That shadow'd o'er their road. 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, ii. 259. 

2 Lockhart's Life of Scott, iii. 327. 


Their vanward scouts no tidings bring, 

Can rouse no lurking foe, 
Nor spy a trace of liviug thing 

Save when they stirr'd the roe j 
The host moves like a deep-sea wave, 
Where rise no rocks its power to brave. 

High- swelling, dark, and slow. 
The lake is pass'd, and now they gain 
A narrow and a broken plain, 
Before t"he Trosach's rugged jaws. 
And here the horse and spearmen pause. 
While, to explore the dangerous glen. 
Dive through the pass the archer-men. 

" At once there rose so wild a yell 
Within that dark and narrow dell, 
As all the fiends from heaven that fell 
Had peal'd the banner-cry of Hell ! 

Forth from the pass, in tumult driven. 
Like chaff before the wind of heaven. 

The archery appear ; 
For life ! for life ! their plight they ply, 
And shriek, and shout, and battle-cry, 
And plaids and bonnets waving high, 
And broadswords flashing to the sky, 
Are maddening in the rear. 
Onward they drive, in dreadful race, 

Pursuers and pursued ; 
Before that tide of flight and chase, 
How shall it keep its rooted place. 
The spearmen's twilight wood ? 
Down, down, cried Mar, ' your lances down 

Bear back both friend and foe ! ' 
Like reeds before the tempest's frown. 
That serried grove of lances brown 

At once lay lev ell' d low ; 
And, closely shouldering side to side, 
The bristling ranks the onset bide, — 
* We'll quell the savage mountaineer, 

As their Tinchel cows the game ! 
They came as fleet as forest deer, 
We'll drive them back as tame.' " 

66 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

But admirable in its stern and deep excitement as 
that is, tlie battle of Modden in Marmion passes it in 
vigour, and constitutes perhaps the most perfect de- 
scription of war by one who was — almost — both poet and 
warrior, which the English language contains. 

And Marmion registers the high-water mark of Scott's 
poetical power, not only in relation to the painting of 
war, but in relation to the painting of nature. Critics 
from the beginning onwards have complained of the 
six introductory epistles, as breaking the unity of the 
story. But I cannot see that the remark has weight. ITo 
poem is written for those who read it as they do a novel — 
merely to follow the interest of the story ; or if any poem 
be written for such readers, it deserves to die. On such 
a principle — which treats a poem as a mere novel and 
nothing else, — you might object to Homer that he in- 
terrupts the battle so often to dwell on the origin of 
the heroes who are waging it ; or to Byron that he 
deserts Childe Harold to meditate on the rapture of 
solitude. To my mind the ease and frankness of these 
confessions of the author's recollections give a picture 
of his life and character while writing Marmion, 
which adds greatly to its attraction as a poem. You 
have a picture at once not only of the scenery, but of 
the mind in which that scenery is mirrored, and are 
brought back frankly, at fit intervals, from the one to the 
other, in the mode best adapted to help you to appreciate 
the relation of the poet to the poem. At least if 
Milton's various interruptions of a much more ambitious 
theme, to muse upon his own qualifications or disqualifi- 
cations for the task he had attempted, be not artistic 
mistakes — and I never heard of any one who thought 
them so — I cannot see any reason why Scott's periodic 


recurrence to his own personal history should be artistic 
mistakes either. If Scott's reverie was less lofty than 
Milton's, so also was his story. It seems to me as 
fitting to describe the relation between the poet and his 
theme in the one case as in the other. What can be 
more truly a part of Marmion, as a poem, though not as 
a story, than that introduction to the first canto in which 
Scott expresses his passionate sympathy with the high 
national feeling of the moment, in his tribute to Pitt and 
Fox, and then reproaches himself for attempting so great 
a subject and returns to what he calls his " rude legend," 
the very essence of which was, however, a passionate 
appeal to the spirit of national independence 1 What can 
be more germane to the poem than the delineation of the 
strength the poet had derived from musing in the bare 
and rugged solitudes of St. Mary's Lake, in the intro- 
duction to the second canto 1 Or than the striking auto- 
biographical study of his own infancy which I have before 
extracted from the introduction to the third 1 It seems 
to me that Marmion without these introductions would 
be like the hills which border Yarrow, without the stream 
and lake in which they are reflected. 

Never at all events in any later poem was Scott's touch 
as a mere painter so terse and strong. What a picture 
of a Scotch winter is given in these few lines : — 

" The sheep before the pinching heaven 
To shelter'd dale and down are driven, 
Where yet some faded herbage pines. 
And yet a watery sunbeam shines : 
In meek despondency they eye 
The wither'd sward and wintry sky, 
And from beneath their summer hill 
Stray sadly by Glenkinnon's rill." 

Again, if Scott is ever Homeric (which I cannot think 

58 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

he often is, in spite of Sir Erancis Doyle's able criticism, — 
(he is too short, too sharp, and too eagerly bent on his 
rugged way, for a poet who is always delighting to find 
loopholes, even in battle, from which to look out upon the 
great story of human nature), he is certainly nearest to 
it in such a passage as this : — 

*' The Isles-men carried at their backs 
The ancient Danish battle-axe. 
They raised a wild and wondering cry 
As with his guide rode Marmion by. 
Loud were their clamouring tongues, as when 
The clanging sea-fowl leave the fen, 
And, with their cries discordant mix'd, 
Grumbled and yell'd the pipes betwixt.'* 

In hardly any of Scott's poetry do we find much of 

what is called the curiosa felicitas of expression, — the 

magic use of words, as distinguished from the mere general 

effect of vigour, purity, and concentration of purpose. 

But in Marviion occasionally we do find such a use. 

Take this description, for instance, of the Scotch tents 

near Edinburgh : — 

" A thousand did I say ? I ween 
Thousands on thousands there were seen, 
That chequer' d all the h^ath between 

The streamlet and the town ; 
In crossing ranks extending far, 
Forming a camp irregular ; 
Oft giving way where still there stood 
Some relics of the old oak wood. 
That darkly huge did intervene, 
And tamed the glaring white with green ; 
In these extended lines there lay 
A martial kingdom's vast array.'* 

The line I have italicized seems to me to have more of 
the poet's special magic of expression than is at all usual 


with Scott. The conception of the peaceful green oak- 
wood taming the glaring white of the tented field, is as 
fine in idea as it is in relation to the effect of the mere 
colour on the eye. Judge Scott's poetry by whatever test 
you will — whether it be a test of that which is peculiar 
to it, its glow of national feeling, its martial ardour, its 
swift and rugged simplicity, or whether it be a test of 
that which is common to it with most other poetry, its 
attraction for all romantic excitements, its special feeling 
for the pomp and circumstance of war, its love of light 
and colour — and tested either way, Marmion will remain 
his finest poem. The battle of Flodden Field touches his 
highest point in its expression of stern patriotic feeling, 
in its passionate lov.e of daring, and in the force and 
swiftness of its movement, no less than in the brilliancy 
of its romantic interests, the charm of its picturesque 
detail, and the glow of its scenic colouring. No poet ever 
equalled Scott in the description of wild and simple scenes 
and the expression of wild and simple feelings. But I 
have said enough now of his poetry, in which, good as it 
is, Scott's genius did not reach its highest point. The 
hurried tramp of his somewhat monotonous metre, is apt 
to weary the ears of men who do not find their sufficient 
happiness, as he did, in dreaming of the wild and daring 
enterprises of his loved Border-land. The very quality 
in his verse which makes it seize so powerfully on the 
imaginations of plain, bold, adventurous men, often makes 
it hammer fatiguingly against the brain of those who 
need the relief of a wider horizon and a richer world. 

60 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [cuap. 



I HAVE anticipated in some degree, in speaking of Scott's 
later poetical works, what, in point of time at least, should 
follow some slight sketch of his chosen companions, and 
of his occupations in the first period of his married life. 
Scott's most intimate friend for some time after he went 
to college, probably the one who most stimulated his ima- 
gination in his youth, and certainly one of his most inti- 
mate friends to the very last, was William Clerk, who was 
called to the bar on the same day as Scott. He was the 
son of John Clerk of Eldin, the author of a book of some 
celebrity in its time on Naval Tactics. Even in the 
earliest days of this intimacy, the lads who had been Scott's 
fellow-apprentices in his father's office, saw with some 
jealousy his growing friendship with William Clerk, 
and remonstrated with Scott on the decline of his 
regard for them, but only succeeded in eliciting from 
him one of those outbursts of peremptory frankness which 
anything that he regarded as an attempt to encroach on 
his own interior liberty of choice always provoked. " I 
wiJl never cut any man," he said, *' unless I detect him in 
scoundrelism, but I know not what right any of you have 
to interfere with my choice of my company. As it is, I 
fairly own that though I like many of you very much, and 


have long done so, I think William Clerk weU worth you 
aU put together." ^ Scott never lost the friendship which 
hegan with this eager enthusiasm, but his chief intimacy 
with Clerk was during his younger days. 

In 1808 Scott describes Clerk as "a man of the most 
acute intellects and powerful apprehension, who, if he 
should ever shake loose the fetters of indolence by which 
he has been hitherto trammelled, cannot fail to be dis- 
tinguished in the highest degree." Whether for the reason 
suggested, or for some other. Clerk never actually gained any 
other distinction so great as his friendship with Scott con- 
ferred upon him. Probably Scott had discerned the true 
secret of his friend's comparative obscurity. Even while 
preparing for the bar, when they had agreed to go 
on alternate mornings to each other's lodgings to read 
together, Scott found it necessary to modify the arrange- 
ment by always visiting his friend, whom he usually found 
in bed. It was William Clerk who sat for the picture of 
Darsie Latimer, the hero of Bedgauntlet, — whence we 
should suppose him to have been a lively, generous, sus- 
ceptible, contentious, and rather helter-skelter young man, 
much alive to the ludicrous in aU situations, very eager to 
see life in all its phases, and somewhat vain of his power 
of adapting himself equally to all these phases. Scott 
teUs a story of Clerk's being once baffled — almost for the 
first time — by a stranger in a stage coach, who would not, 
or could not, talk to him on any subject, until at last 
Clerk addressed to him this stately remonstrance, "I 
have talked to you, my friend, on all the ordinary subjects 
— literature, farming, merchandise, gaming, game-laws, 
horse-races, suits-at-law, politics, swindling, blasphemy, 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scoit, i. 214. 

62 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

and philosophy, — is there any one subject that you will 
favour me by opening upon? " *' Sir," replied the inscru- 
table stranger, " can you say anything clever about ' hend- 
Uather ? " ^ JS'o doubt this superficial familiarity with a 
vast number of subjects was a great fascination to Scott, 
and a great stimulus to his own imagination. To the 
last he held the same opinion of his friend's latent powers. 
"To my thinking," he wrote in his diary in 1825, "I 
never met a man of greater powers, of more complete 
information on all desirable subjects." But in youth at 
least Clerk seems to have had what Sir Waiter calls a 
characteristic Edinburgh complaint, the "itch for dis- 
putation," and though he softened this down in later life, 
he had always that slight contentiousness of bias which 
enthusiastic men do not often heartily like, and which may 
have prevented Scott from continuing to the full the 
close intimacy of those earlier years. Yet almost his 
last record of a really delightful evening, refers to a 
bachelor's dinner given by Mr. Clerk, who remained 
unmarried, as late as 1827, after all Sir Walter's worst 
troubles had come upon him. " In short," says the diary, 
" we really laughed, and real laughter is as rare as real 
tears. I must say, too, there was a heart, a kindly feeling 
prevailed over the party. Can London give such a 
dinner ] " * It is clear ,then, that Clerk's charm for his 
friend survived to the last, and that it was not the mere 
inexperience of boyhood, which made Scott esteem him 
so highly in his early days. 

If Clerk pricked, stimulated, and sometimes badgered Scott, 
another of his friends who became more and more intimate 
with him, as life went on, and who died before him, always 

* Lockharfc's Life of Scott, iii, 344. 
2 Lockhart's Life of Scott, ix. 75. 


soothed him, partly by his gentleness, partly by his almost 
feminine dependence. This was William Erskine, also a 
barrister, and son of an Episcopalian clergyman in Perthshire, 
— to whose influence it is probably due that Scott himself 
always read the English Church service in his own country 
house, and does not appear to have retained the Pres- 
byterianism into which he was born. Erskine, who was 
afterwards raised to the Bench as Lord Kinnedder — a dis- 
tinction which he did not survive for many months — was 
a good classic, a man of fine, or, as some of his com- 
panions thought, of almost superfine taste. The style 
apparently for which he had credit must have been a some- 
what mimini-pimini style, if we may judge by Scott's 
attempt in The Bridal of Triermain, to write in a manner 
which he intended to be attributed to his friend. 
Erskine was left a widower in middle life, and Scott used 
to accuse him of philandering with pretty women, — a 
mode of love-making which Scott certainly contrived to 
render into verse, in painting Arthur's love-making to 
Lucy in that poem. It seems that some absolutely false 
accusation brought against Lord Kinnedder, of an intrigue 
with a lady with whom he had been thus philandering, 
broke poor Erskine's heart, during his first year as a Judge. 
"The Counsellor (as Scott always called him) was," 
says Mr. Lockhart, " a little man of feeble make, who 
seemed unhappy when his pony got beyond a footpace, 
and had never, I should suppose, addicted himself to any 
out of door's sports whatever. He would, I fancy, as soon 
have thought of slaying his own mutton as of handling a 
fowling-piece ; he used to shudder when he saw a party 
equipped for coursing, as if murder was in the wind ; but 
the cool, meditative angler was in his eyes the abomination 
of abominations. His small elegant features, hectic cheek 

64 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

and soft hazel eyes, were the index of the quick, sensitive, 
gentle spirit within." " He would dismount to lead his 
horse down what his friend hardly perceived to be a 
descent at all ; grew pale at a precipice ; and, unlike the 
white lady of Avenel, would go a long way round for a 
bridge." He shrank from general society, and lived in 
closer intimacies, and his intimacy with Scott was of the 
closest. He was Scott's confidant in all literary matters, 
and his advice was oftener followed on questions of style 
and form, and of literary enterprise, than that of any other 
of Scott's friends. It is into Erskine's mouth that Scott 
puts the supposed exhortation to himself to choose more 
classical subjects for his poems : — 

" ' Approach those masters o'er whose tomb 
Immortal laurels ever bloom ; 
Instructive of the feebler bard, 
Still from the grave their voice is heard ; 
From them, and from the paths they show'd. 
Choose honour'd guide and practised road ,• 
Nor ramble on through brake and maze, 
With harpers rude of barbarous days." 

And it is to Erskine that Scott replies, — 

* ' For me, thus nurtured, dost thou ask 
The classic poet's well-conn'd task ? 
Nay, Erskine, nay, — on the wild hill 
Let the wild heath-bell flourish still ; 
Cherish the tulip, prune the vine, 
But freely let the woodbine twine. 
And leave untrimm'd the eglantine : 
Nay, my friend, nay, — since oft thy praise 
Hath given fresh vigour to my lays j 
Since oft thy judgment could refine 
My flatten' d thought or cumbrous line. 
Still kind, as is thy wont, attend, 
And in the minstrel spare the friend ! '* 

It was Erskine, too, as Scott expressly states in his 


introduction to the Chronicles of the Canongate, who 
reviewed with far too much partiality the Tales of imj 
Landlord, in the Quarterly Review, for January, 1817, — a 
review unjustifiably included among Scott's own critical 
essays, on the very insufficient ground that the MS. 
reached Murray in Scott's own handwriting. There can, 
however, be no doubt at all that Scott copied out his friend's 
MS., in order to increase the mystification which he so 
much enjoyed as to the authorship of his variously named 
series of tales. Possibly enough, too, he may have drawn 
Erskine's attention to the evidence which justified his 
sketch of the Puritans in Old Mortality, evidence which 
he certainly intended at one time to embody in a reply of 
his own to the adverse Criticism on that book. But though 
Erskine was Scott's alter ego for literary purposes, it is 
certain that Erskine, with his fastidious, not to say finical, 
sense of honour, would never have lent his name to cover 
a puff written by Scott of his own works. A man who, 
in Scott's own words, died " a victim to a hellishly false 
story, or rather, I should say, to the sensibility of his own 
nature, which could not endure even the shadow of re- 
proach, — like the ermine, which is said to pine if its fur is 
soiled," was not the man to father a puff, even by his dearest 
friend, on that friend's own creations. Erskine was indeed 
almost feminine in his love of Scott ; but he was feminine 
with all the irritable and scrupulous delicacy of a man 
who could not derogate from his own ideal of right, even 
to serve a friend. 

Another friend of Scott's earlier days was John Leyden, 
Scott's most efficient coadjutor in the collection of the 
Border Minstrelsy, — that eccentric genius, marvellous lin- 
guist, and good-natured bear, who, bred a shepherd in one 
of the wildest valleys of Roxburghshire, had accumulated 


66 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

before the age of nineteen an amount of learning whicli 
confounded the Edinburgh Professors, and who, without 
any previous knowledge of medicine, prepared himself to 
pass an examination for the medical profession, at six 
months' notice of the offer of an assistant-surgeoncy in the 
East India Company. It was Leyden who once walked 
between forty and fifty miles and back, for the sole pur- 
pose of visiting an old person who possessed a copy of a 
border ballad that was wanting for the Minstrelsy. Scott 
was sitting at dinner one day with company, when he 
heard a sound at a distance, " like that of the whistling of 
a tempest through the torn rigging of a vessel which scuds 
before it. The sounds increased as they approached more 
near ; and Leyden (to the great astonishment of such of 
the guests as did not know him) burst into the room 
chanting the desiderated ballad with the most enthusiastic 
gesture, and all the energy of what he used to call the 
saio-tones of his voice." ^ Leyden's great antipathy was 
Ritson, an ill-conditioned antiquarian, of vegetarian prin- 
ciples, whom Scott alone of all the antiquarians of that 
day could manage to tame and tolerate. In Scott's 
absence one day, during his early married life at Lass- 
wade, Mrs. Scott inadvertently offered Ritson a slice of beef, 
when that strange man burst out in such outrageous tones 
at what he chose to suppose an insult, that Leyden threat- 
ened to "thraw his neck" if he were not silent, a threat 
which frightened Ritson out of the cottage. On another 
occasion, simply in order to tease Ritson, Leyden com- 
plained that the meat was overdone, and sent to the 
kitchen for a plate of literally raw beef, and ate it up 
solely for the purpose of shocking his crazy rival in anti- 

^ Lockhart's Life of Scott, ii. 56. 


qiiarian research. Poor Leyden did not long survive his 
experience of the Indian climate. And with him died a 
passion for knowledge of a very high order, combined 
with no inconsiderable poetical gifts. It was in the study 
of such eccentric beings as Leyden that Scott doubtless 
acquired his taste for painting the humours of Scotch 

Another wild shepherd, and wilder genius among Scott's 
associates, not only in those earlier days, but to the end, was 
that famous Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg, who was 
always quarrelling with his brother poet, as far as Scott per- 
mitted it, and making it up again when his better feelings 
returned. In a shepherd's dress, and with hands fresh 
from sheep-shearing, he came to dine for the first time with 
Scott in Castle Street, and finding Mrs. Scott lying on the 
sofa, immediately stretched himself at full length on an- 
other sofa ; for, as he explained afterwards, " I thought I 
could not do better than to imitate the lady of the house." 
At dinner, as the wine passed, he advanced from "Mr. Scott," 
to "Shirra" (Sheriff), "Scott," "Walter," and finally 
" Wattie," till at supper he convulsed every one by address- 
ing Mrs. Scott familiarly as " Charlotte." * Hogg wrote 
certain short poems, the beauty of which in their kind 
Sir Walter himself never approached ; but he was a man 
almost without self-restraint or self-knowledge, though 
he had a great deal of self-importance, and hardly knew 
how much he owed to Scott's magnanimous and ever- 
forbearing kindness, or if he did, felt the weight of grati- 
tude a burden on his heart. Very different was William 
Laidlaw, a farmer on the banks of the Yarrow, always Scott's 
friend, and afterwards his manager at Abbotsford, through 

» Lockhart's Life of Scott, ii. 168-9. 
p 2 

68 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

whose hand he dictated many of his novels. Mr. Laidlaw 
was one of Scott's humbler friends, — a class of friends 
with whom he seems always to have felt more completely 
at his ease than any others — who gave at least as much as 
he received, one of those wise, loyal, and thoughtful men 
in a comparatively modest position of life, whom Scott 
delighted to trust, and never trusted without finding his 
trust justified. In addition to these Scotch friends, Scott 
had made, even before the publication of his Border Min- 
strelsy^ not a few in London or its neighbourhood, — of 
whom the most important at this time was the grey-eyed, 
hatchet-faced, courteous George Ellis, as Leyden described 
him, the author of various works on ancient English poetry 
and romance, who combined with a shrewd, satirical vein, 
and a great knowledge of the world, political as well as 
literary, an exquisite taste in poetry, and a warm heart. 
Certainly Ellis's criticism on his poems was the truest and 
best that Scott ever received ; and had he lived to read his 
novels, — only one of which was published before Ellis's 
death,: — he might have given Scott more useful help than 
either Ballantyne or even Erskine. 




So completely was Scott by nature an out-of-doors man 
that he cannot be adequately known either through his 
poems or through his friends, without also knowing his 
external surroundings and occupations. His first country 
home was the cottage at Lasswade, on the Esk, about six 
miles from Edinburgh^ which he took in 1 798, a few months 
after his marriage, and retained till 1804. It was a pretty 
little cottage, in the beautification of which Scott felt 
great pride, and where he exercised himself in the small 
beginnings of those tastes for altering and planting which 
grew so rapidly upon him, and at last enticed him into 
castle-building and tree-culture on a dangerous, not to 
say, ruinous scale. One of Scott's intimate friends, 
the master of Eokeby, by whose house and neighbourhood 
the poem of that name was suggested, Mr. Morritt, walked 
along the Esk in 1808 with Scott four years after he had 
left it, and was taken out of his way to see it. " I have 
been bringing you," he said, "where there is little enough 
to be seen, only that Scotch cottage, but though not worth 
looking at, I could not pass it. It was our first country 
house when newly married, and many a contrivance it had 
to make it comfortable. I made a dining-table for it with 
my own hands. Look at these two miserable willow-trees 

70 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

on either side tlie gate into the enclosure ; they are tied 
together at the top to be an arch, and a cross made of two 
sticks over them is not yet decayed. To be sure it is not 
much of a lion to show a stranger ; but I wanted to see it 
again myself, for I assure you that after I had constructed 
it, mamma (Mrs. Scott) and I both of us thought it so fine, 
we turned out to see it by moonlight, and walked back- 
wards from it to the cottage-door, in admiration of our own 
magnificence and its picturesque effect." It was here at Lass- 
wade that he bought the phaeton, which was the first 
wheeled carriage that ever penetrated to Liddesdale, a feat 
which it accomplished in the first August of this century. 
When Scott left the cottage at Lasswade in 1804, it was 
to take up his country residence in Selkirkshire, of which 
he had now been made sheriff, in a beautiful little house 
belonging to his cousin, Major-General Sir James Eussell, 
and known to all the readers of Scott's poetry as the 
Ashestiel of the Marmion introductions. The Glenkinnon 
brook dashes in a deep ravine through the grounds to join 
the Tweed ; behind the house rise the hills which divide 
the Tweed from the Yarrow ; and an easy ride took Scott 
into the scenery of the Yarrow. The description of 
Ashestiel, and the brook which runs through it, in the 
introduction to the first canto of Marmion is indeed one 
of the finest specimens of Scott's descriptive poetry : — 

" November's sky is chill and drear, 
November's leaf is red and sear ; 
Late, gazing down the steepy linn, 
That hems our little garden in, 
Low in its dark and narrow glen. 
You scarce the rivulet might ken. 
So thick the tangled greenwood grew, 
So feeble trill'd the streamlet through j 
Now, murmuring hoarse, and frequent seen. 
Through bush and briar no longer green, 


An angry brook, it sweeps the glade, 
Brawls over rock and wild cascade, 
And, foaming brown with doubled speed, 
Hurries its waters to the Tweed." 

Selkirk was his nearest town, and that was seven miles 
from Ashestiel; and even his nearest neighbour was at 
Yair, a few miles off lower down the Tweed, — Yair of 
which he wrote in another of the introductions to 
Marmion : — 

" From Yair, which hills so closely bind 
Scarce can the Tweed his passage find, 
Though much he fret, and chafe, and toil, 
Till all his eddying currents boil." 

At Ashestiel it was one of his greatest delights to look 
after his relative's woods, and to dream of planting and 
thinning woods of his own, a dream only too amply- 
realized. It was here that a new kitchen-range was sunk 
for some time in the ford, which was so swollen by a storm 
in 1805 that the horse and cart that brought it were 
themselves with difficulty rescued from the waters. And 
it was here that Scott first entered on that active life of 
literary labour in close conjunction with an equally active 
life of rural sport, which gained him a well-justified repu- 
tation as the hardest worker and the heartiest player in 
the kingdom. At Lasswade Scott's work had been done 
at night; but serious headaches made him change his 
habit at Ashestiel, and rise steadily at five, lighting his own 
fire in winter. "Arrayed in his shooting-jacket, or what- 
ever dress he meant to use till dinner-time, he was seated 
at his desk by six o'clock, all his papers arranged before 
liim in the most accurate order, and his books of reference 
marshalled around him on the floor, while at least one 
favourite dog lay watching his eye, just beyond the line 

73 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

of circumvallation. Thus, by the time the family assembled 
for breakfast, between nine and ten, he had done enough, 
in his own language, * to break the neck of the day's work.' 
After breakfast a couple of hours more were given to his 
solitary tasks, and by noon he was, as he used to say, his 
* own man.' When the weather was bad, he would labour 
incessantly all the morning ; but the general rule was to be 
out and on horseback by one o'clock at the latest ; while, 
if any more distant excursion had been proposed overnight, 
he was ready to start on it by ten ; his occasional rainy 
days of unintermitted study, forming, as he said, a fund 
in his favour, out of which he was entitled to draw for 
accommodation whenever the sun shone with special bright- 
ness." In his earlier days none of his horses liked to be 
fed except by their master. When Brown Adam was 
saddled, and the stable-door opened, the horse would trot 
round to the leaping-on stone of his own accord, to be 
mounted, and was quite intractable under any one but 
Scott. Scott's life might well be fairly divided — ^just as 
history is divided into reigns — by the succession of 
his horses and dogs. The reigns of Captain, Lieu- 
tenant, Brown Adam, Daisy, divide at least the 
period up to Waterloo ; while the reigns of Sybil 
Grey, and the Covenanter, or Douce Davie, divide the 
period of Scott's declining years. During the brilliant 
perioQ of the earlier novels we hear less of Scott's horses ; 
but of Ms deerhounds there is an unbroken succession. 
Camp, Maida (the "Bevis" of Woodstock), and Mm- 
rod, reigned successively between Sir Walter's marriage 
and his death. It was Camp on whose death he relin- 
quished a dinner invitation previously accepted, on the 
ground that the death of " an old friend " rendered him 
unwilling to dine out ; Maida to whom he erected a marble 


monument, and Mmrod of whom he spoke so affect- 
ingly as too good a dog for his diminished fortunes during 
his absence in Italy on the last hopeless journey. 

Scott's amusements at Ashestiel, besides riding, in which 
he was fearless to rashness, and coursing, which was the 
chief form of sporting in the neighbourhood, comprehended 
" burning the water," as salmon-spearing by torchlight was 
called, in the course of which he got many a ducking. Mr. 
Skene gives an amusing picture of their excursions together 
from Ashestiel among the hills, he himself followed by 
a lanky Savoyard, and Scott by a portly Scotch butler 
— ^both servants alike highly sensitive as to their personal 
dignity — on horses which neither of the attendants could 
sit well. " Scott's heavy lumbering buffetier had pro- 
vided himself against the mountain storms with a huge 
cloak, which, when the cavalcade was at gallop, streamed 
at full stretch from his shoulders, and kept flapping in the 
other's face, who, having more than enough to do in pre- 
serving his own equilibrium, could not think of attempting 
at any time to control the pace of his steed, and had no 
relief but fuming and vesting at the sacre manteau, in 
language happily unintelligible to its wearer. !N"ow and 
then some ditch or turf-fence rendered it indispensable to 
adventure on a leap, and no farce could have been more 
amusing than the display of politeness which then occurred 
between these worthy equestrians, each courteously declin- 
ing in favour of his friend the honour of the first experi- 
ment, the horses fretting impatient beneath them, and 
the dogs clamouring encouragement."^ Such was Scott's 
order of life at Ashestiel, where he remained from 1804 
to 1812. As to his literary work here, it was enormous. 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, ii. 268-9. 

74 RIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

Besides finishing The Lay of the Last Minstrel, writing 
Marmiorif The Lady of the Lake, part of The Bridal 
of Triermain, and part of Rohehy, and writing reviews, 
he wrote a Life of Dryden, and edited his works anew 
with some care, in eighteen volumes, edited Somers's Col- 
lection of Tracts, in thirteen volumes, quarto. Sir Ralph 
Sadler's Life, Letters, and State Papers, in three volumes, 
quarto. Miss Seward's Life and Poetical Works, The Secret 
History of the Court of James I., in two volumes, Strut fs 
Queenhoo Hall, in four volumes, 12mo., and various other 
single volumes, and began his heavy work on the edition 
of Swift. This was the literary work of eight years, 
during which he had the duties of his Sheriffship, and, 
after he gave up his practice as a barrister, the duties of 
his Deputy Clerkship of Session to discharge regularly. 
The editing of Dryden alone would have seemed to most 
men of leisure a pretty full occupation for these eight 
years, and though I do not know that Scott edited 
with the anxious care with which that sort of work is 
often now prepared, that he went into all the arguments 
for a doubtful reading with the pains that Mr. Dyce spent 
on the various readings of Shakespeare, or that Mr. 
Spedding spent on a various reading of Bacon, yet Scott 
did his work in a steady, workmanlike manner, which 
satisfied the most fastidious critics of that day, and he was 
never, I believe, charged with hurrying or scamping it. 
His biographies of Swift and Dryden are plain solid pieces 
of work — not exactly the works of art which biographies 
have been made in our day — not comparable to Carlyle's 
studies of Cromwell or Frederick, or, in point of ar^, even 
to the life of John Sterling, but still sensible and interesting, 
sound in judgment, and animated in style. 


CHAPTEE yill. 


In May, 1812, Scott having now at last obtained the salary 
of the Clerkship of Session, the work of which he had for 
more than five years discharged without pay, indulged him- 
self in realizing his favourite dream of buying a "mountain 
farm " at Abbotsford, — five miles lower down the Tweed 
than his cottage at Ashestiel, which was now again 
claimed by the family of Russell, — and migrated thither 
with his household gods. The children long remembered 
the leave-taking as one of pure grief, for the villagers 
were much attached both to Scott and to his wife, who 
had made herself greatly beloved by her untiring goodness 
to the sick among her poor neighbours. But Scott him- 
self describes the migration as a scene in which their 
neighbours found no small share of amusement. " Our 
Hitting and removal from Ashestiel baffled all description ; 
we had twenty-five cartloads of the veriest trash in nature, 
besides dogs, pigs, ponies, poultry, cows, calves, bare- 
headed wenches, and bare-breeched boys."^ 

To another friend Scott wrote that the neighbours had 
" been much delighted with the procession of my furni- 
ture, in which old swords, bows, targets, and lances, made 
a very conspicuous show. . A family of turkeys was 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, iv. G. 

76 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

accommodated within the helmet of some preux chevalier 
of ancient border fame ; and the very cows, for aught I 
know, were bearing banners and muskets. I assure your 
ladyship that this caravan attended by a dozen of ragged 
rosy peasant children, carrying fishing-rods and spears, 
and leading ponies, greyhounds, and spaniels, would, as 
it crossed the Tweed, have furnished no bad subject for 
the pencil, and really reminded me of one of the gipsy 
groups of Callot upon their march." ^ 

The place thus bought for 4000Z., — half of which, ac- 
cording to Scott's bad and sanguine habit, was borrowed 
from his brother, and half raised on the security of a poem 
at the moment of sale wholly unwritten, and not com- 
pleted even when he removed to Abbotsford — " Rokeby " 
— became only too much of an idol for the rest of Scott's 
life. Mr. Lockhart admits that before the crash came he 
had invested 29,OO0Z. in the purchase of land alone. 
But at this time only the kernel of the subsequent estate 
was bought, in the shape of a hundred acres or rather 
more, part of which ran along the shores of the Tweed — 
" a beautiful river flowing broad and bright over a bed 
of milk-white pebbles, unless here and there where it 
darkened into a deep pool, overhung as yet only by 
birches and alders." There was also a poor farm-house, a 
staring barn, and a pond so dirty that it had hitherto given 
the name of " Clarty Hole " to the place itself. Scott re- 
named the place from the adjoining ford which was just 
above the confluence of the Gala with the Tweed. He chose 
the name of Abbotsford because the land had formerly all 
belonged to the Abbots of Melrose, — the ruin of whose 
beautiful abbey was visible from many parts of the little 

^ Lockhart' s Life of Scott, iv. 3. 


property. On the other side of the river the old British 
barrier called " the Catrail " was full iu view. As yet 
the place was not planted, — the only effort made in this 
direction by its former owner, Dr. Douglas, having been 
a long narrow stripe of firs, which Scott used to compare 
to a black hair-comb, and which gave the name of " The 
Doctor's Redding-Kame " to the stretch of woods of 
which it is still the central line. Such was the place 
which he made it the too great delight of the remainder 
of his life to increase and beautify, by spending on it a 
good deal more than he had earned, and that too in times 
when he should have earned a good deal more than he 
ought to have thought even for a moment of spending. The 
cottage grew to a mansion, and the mansion to a castle. 
The farm by the Tweed made him long for a farm by 
the Cauldshiel's loch, and the farm by the Cauldshiel's 
loch for Thomas the Ehymer's Glen j and as, at every 
step in the ladder, his means of buying were really in- 
creasing — though they were so cruelly discounted and 
forestalled by this growing land-hunger, — Scott never 
realized into what troubles he was carefully running 

Of his life at Abbotsford at a later period when 
his building was greatly enlarged, and his children 
grown up, we have a brilliant picture from the pen of 
Mr. Lockhart. And though it does not belong to his 
first years at Abbotsford, I cannot do better than include 
it here as conveying probably better than anything I 
could elsewhere find, the charm of that ideal life which 
lured Scott on from one project to another in that scheme 
of castle-building, in relation to which he confused so 
dangerously the world of dreams with the harder world 
of wages, capital, interest, and rent. 

78 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

" I remember saying to William Allan one morning, as the 
whole party mustered before the porch after breakfast, * A 
faithful sketch of what you at this moment see would be more 
interesting a hundred years hence than the grandest so-called 
historical picture that you will ever exhibit in Somerset 
House ;' and my friend agreed with me so cordially that I 
often wondered afterwards he had not attempted to realize 
the suggestion. The subject ought, however, to have been 
treated conjointly by him (or Wilkie) and Edwia Landseer. 

" It was a clear, bright September morning, with a sharp- 
ness in the air that doubled the animating influence of the 
sunshine, and all was in readiness for a grand coursing match 
on Newark Hill. The only guest who had chalked out other 
sport for himself was the staunchest of anglers, Mr. Rose; 
but he too was there on his sJielty, armed with his salmon- 
rod and landing-net, and attended by his humorous squire, 
Hinves, and Charlie Purdie, a brother of Tom, in those days 
the most celebrated fisherman of the district. This little 
group of "Waltonians, bound for Lord Somerville's preserve, 
remained lounging about to witness the start of the main 
cavalcade. Sir Walter, mounted on Sybil, was marshalling 
the order of procession with a huge hunting-whip ; and 
among a dozen frolicsome youths and maidens, who seemed 
disposed to laugh at all discipline, appeared, each on horse- 
back, each as eager as the youngest sportsman in the troop, 
Sir Humphry Davy, Dr. Wollaston, and the patriarch of 
Scottish belles lettres, Henry Mackenzie. The Man of Feeling, 
however, was persuaded with some difficulty to resign his 
steed for the present to his faithful negro follower, and to 
join Lady Scott in the sociable, until we should reach the 
ground of our hattue. Laidlaw, on a long-tailed, wiry 
Highlander, yclept Hoddin Grey, which carried him nimbly 
and stoutly, although his feet almost touched the ground as 
he sat, was the adjutant. But the most picturesque figure 
was the illustrious inventor of the safety-lamp. He had come 
for his favourite sport of angling, and had been practising 
it successfully with Eose, his travelling-companion, for 
two or three days preceding this, but he had not pre- 
pared for coursing fields, and had left Charlie Purdie's 


troop for Sir Walter's on a sudden thought ; and his 
fisherman's costume — a brown hat with flexible brim, sur- 
rounded with line upon line, and innumerable flj-hooks, 
jack-boots worthy of a Dutch smuggler, and a fustian surtout 
dabbled with the blood of salmon, — made a fine contrast with 
the smart jackets, white cord breeches, and well-polished 
jockey-boots of the less distinguished cavaliers about him. 
Dr. Wollaston was in black, and, with his noble, serene 
dignity of countenance, might have passed for a sporting 
archbishop. Mr. Mackenzie, at this time in the seventy- 
sixth, year of his age, with a white hat turned up with green, 
green spectacles, green jacket, and long brown leather 
gaiters buttoned upon his nether anatomy, wore a dog- 
whistle round his neck, and had all over the air of as reso- 
lute a devotee as the gay captain of Huntly Burn. Tom 
Purdie and his subalterns had preceded us by a few hours 
with all the greyhounds that could be collected at Abbots- 
ford, Darnick, and Melrose; but the giant Maida had 
remained as his master's orderly, and now gambolled about 
Sibyl Grey, barking for mere joy, like a spaniel puppy. 

" The order of march had been all settled, and the sociable 
was just getting under weigh, when the Lady Anne broke 
from the line, screaming with laughter, and exclaimed, 
' Papa ! papa ! I know you could never think of going with- 
out your pet.' Scott looked round, and I rather think there 
was a blush as well as a smile upon his face, when he per- 
ceived a little black pig frisking about his pony, and evi- 
dently a self-elected addition to the party of the day. He 
tried to look stern, and cracked his whip at the creature, but 
was in a moment obliged to join in the general cheers. 
Poor piggy soon found a strap round his neck, and was 
dragged into the background. Scott, watching the retreat, 
repeated with mock pathos the first verse of an old pastoral 
song : — 

" What will I do gin my hoggie die ? 
My joy, my pride, my hoggie ! 
My only beast, I had nae mae. 
And wow ! but I was vogie ! *' 

80 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

Tlie cheers were redoubled, and the squadron moved on. This 
pig had taken, nobody could tell how, a most sentimental 
attachment to Scott, and was constantly urging its preten- 
sion to be admitted a regular member of his tail, along with 
the greyhounds and terriers ; but indeed I remember him 
suffering another summer under the same sort of pertinacity 
on the part of an affectionate hen. I leave the explanation 
for philosophers ; but such were the facts. I have too much 
respect for the vulgarly calumniated donkey to name him in 
the same category of pets with the pig and the hen ; but a 
year or two after this time, my wife used to drive a couf)le of 
these animals in a little garden chair, and whenever her father 
appeared at the door of our cottage, we were sure to see 
Hannah More and Lady Morgan (as Anne Scott had wickedly 
christened them) trotting from their pasture to lay their 
noses over the paling, and, as Washington Irving says of 
the old white-haired hedger with the Parisian snuff-box, * to 
have a pleasant crack wi' the laird.' " ^ 

Carlyle, in his criticism on Scott — a criticism which 
will hardly, I think, stand the test of criticism in its 
turn, so greatly does he overdo the reaction against the first 
excessive appreciation of his genius — adds a contribution 
of his own to this charming idyll, in reference to the 
natural fascination which Scott seemed to exert over almost 
all dumb creatures. A little Blenheim cocker, "one of the 
smallest, beautifullest, and tiniest of lapdogs," with which 
Carlyle was well acquainted, and which was also one of 
the shyest of dogs, that would crouch towards his mistress 
and draw back " with angry timidity " if any one did 
but look at him admiringly, once met in the street " a 
taU, singular, busy-looking man," who halted by. The 
dog ran towards him and began " fawning, frisking, 
licking at his feet 3" and every time he saw Sir Walter 

1 Lockhart'p Life of Scott, vi. 238—242. 


afterwards, in Edinburgh, he repeated his demonstration 
of delight. Thus discriminating was this fastidious Blen- 
heim cocker even in the busy streets of Edinburgh. 

And Scott's attraction for dumb animals was only ^ 
lesser form of his attraction for all who were in any 
way dependent on him, especially his own servants and 
labourers. The story of his demeanour towards them is 
one of the most touching ever written. " Sir Walter 
speaks to every man as if they were blood-relations " was 
the common formula in which this demeanour was de- 
scribed. Take this illustration. There was a little 
hunchbacked tailor, named William Goodfellow, living 
on his property (but who at Abbotsford was termed Eobin 
Goodfellow). This tailor was employed to make the 
curtains for the new library, and had been very proud of 
his work, but fell ill soon afterwards, and Sir Walter was 
unremitting in his attention to him. *' I can never 
forget," says Mr. Lockhart, " the evening on which the 
poor tailor died. When Scott entered the hovel, he 
found everything silent, and inferred from the looks of 
the good women in attendance that the patient had fallen 
asleep, and that they feared his sleep was the final one. 
He murmured some syllables of kind regret : at the 
sound of his voice the dying tailor unclosed his eyes, 
and eagerly and wistfully sat up, clasping his hands with 
an expression of rapturous gratefulness and devotion that, 
in the midst of deformity, disease, pain, and wretched- 
ness, was at once beautiful and sublime. He cried with 
a loud voice, 'The Lord bless and reward you!' and 
expired with the effort."^ Still more striking is the 
account of his relation with Tom Purdie, the wide- 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, vii. 218. 

82 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

mouthed, under-sized, "broad-shouldered, square-made, thin- 
flanked woodsman, so well known afterwards by all Scott's 
friends as he waited for his master in his green shooting- 
jacket, white hat, and drab trousers. Scott first made 
Tom Purdie's acquaintance in his capacity as judge, the 
man heing hrought before him for poaching, at the time 
that Scott was living at Ashestiel. Tom gave so touching 
an account of his circumstances — work scarce — wife and 
children in want — grouse abundant — and his account of 
himself was so fresh and even humorous, that Scott let 
him off the penalty, and made him his shepherd. He 
discharged these duties so faithfully that he came to be 
his master's forester and factotum, and indeed one of his 
best friends, though a little disposed to tyrannize over 
Scott in his own fashion. A visitor describes him as 
unpacking a box of new importations for his master " as if 
he had been sorting some toys for a restless child." But 
after Sir Walter had lost the bodily strength requisite 
for riding, and was too melancholy for ordinary conversa- 
tion, Tom Purdie's shoulder was his great stay in wan- 
dering through his woods, for with him he felt that he 
might either speak or be silent at his pleasure. " What 
a blessing there is," Scott wrote in his diary at that time, 
" in a fellow like Tom, whom no familiarity can spoil, 
whom you may scold and praise and joke with, knowing 
the quality of the man is unalterable in his love and 
reverence to his master." After Scott's failure, Mr. 
Lockhart writes : " Before I leave this period, I must 
note how greatly I admired the manner in which all his 
dependents appeared to have met the reverse of his for- 
tunes — a reverse which inferred very considerable altera- 
tion in the circumstances of every one of them. The butler, 
instead of being the easy chief of a large establishment, 


was now doing half the work of the house at probably 
half his former wages. Old Peter, who had been- for five 
and twenty years a dignified coachman, was now plough- 
man in ordinary, only putting his horses to the carriage 
upon high and rare occasions ; and so on with all the rest 
that remained of the ancient train. And all, to my view, 
seemed happier than they had ever done before."^ The 
illustration of this true confidence between Scott and his 
servants and labourers might be extended to almost any 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, ix. 170. 



scott's partnerships with the ballantynes. 

Before I make mention of Scott's greatest works, liis 
novels, I must say, a few words of his relation to the 
Ballantyne Brothers, who involved him, and were 
involved hy him, in so many troubles, and with 
whose name the story of his broken fortunes is inextri- 
cably bound up. James Ballantyne, the elder brother, 
was a schoolfellow of Scott's at Kelso, and was the editor 
and manager of the Kelso Mail, an anti-democratic journal, 
which had a I'air circulation. Ballantyne was something 
of an artist as regarded *'type," and Scott got him there- 
fore to print his Minstrelsy of the Border^ the excellent 
workmanship of 'which attracted much attention in 
London. In 1802, on Scott's suggestion, Ballantyne 
moved to Edinburgh ; and to help him to move, Scott, 
who was already meditating some investment of his 
little capital in business other than literary, lent him 
500Z. Between this and 1805, when Scott first became a 
partner of Ballantyne's in the printing business, he used 
every exertion to get legal and literary printing offered to 
James Ballantyne, and, according to Mr. Lockhart, the 
concern "grew and prospered." At AVhitsuntide, 1805, 
when The Lay had been published, but before Scott had 
the least idea of the prospects of gain which mere lite- 


ratiire would open to him, he formally, though secretly, 
joined Ballantyne as a partner in the printing business. 
He explains his motives for this step, so far at least as he 
then recalled them, in a letter written after his misfor- 
tunes, in 1826. "It is easy," he said, "no doubt for any 
friend to blame me for entering into connexion with com- 
mercial matters at aU. But I wish to know what I could 
have done better — excluded from the bar, and then from 
all profits for six years, by my colleague's prolonged life. 
Literature was not in those days what poor Constable has 
made it ; and with my little capital I was too glad to 
make commercially the means of supporting my family. 
I got but 600/. for The Lay of the Last Minstrel, and — it 
was a price that made men's hair stand on end — lOOOZ. for 
Marmion. I have been far from suffering by James 
Ballantyne. I owe it to him to say, that his difiiculties, 
as well as his advantages, are owing to me." 

This, though a true, was probably a very imperfect ac- 
count of Scott's motives. He ceased practising at the bar, 
I do not doubt, in great degree from a kind of hurt pride 
at his ill-success, at a time when he felt during every 
month more and more confidence in his own powers. 
He believed, with some justice, that he understood some 
of the secrets of popularity in literature, but he had always, 
tdl towards the end of his life, the greatest horror of resting 
on literature alone as his main resource ; and he was not a 
man, nor was Lady Scott a woman, to pinch and live nar- 
rowly. Were it only for his lavish generosity, that kind 
of life would have been intolerable to him. Hence, ho 
reflected, that if he could but use his literary instinct to 
feed some commercial undertaking, managed by a man 
he could trust, he might gain a considerable percentage, 
on his little capital, without so embarking in commerce 

86 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

as to oblige liim either to give up his status as a sheriff, 
or his official duties as a clerk of session, or his literary- 
undertakings. In his old schoolfellow, James Ballantyne, 
he believed he had found just such an agent as he 
wanted, the requisite link between literary genius like 
his own, and the world which reads and buys books; 
and he thought that, by feeling his way a little, he might 
secure, through this partnership, besides the then very 
bare rewards of authorship, at least a share in those 
more liberal rewards which commercial men managed to 
squeeze for themselves out of successful authors. And, 
further, he felt — and this was probably the greatest un- 
conscious attraction for him in this scheme — that with 
James Ballantyne for his partner he should be the real 
leader and chief, and rather in the position of a patron 
and benefactor of his colleague, than of one in any degree 
dependent on the generosity or approval of others. " If 
I have a very strong passion in the world," he once wrote 
of himself — and the whole story of his life seems to con- 
firm it — "it is pride." ^ In James Ballantyne he had 
a faithful, but almost humble friend, with whom he could 
deal much as he chose, and fear no wound to his pride. 
He had himself helped Ballantyne to a higher line of 
business than any hitherto aspired to by him. It was 
his own book which first got the Ballantyne press its 
public credit. And if he could but create a great com- 
mercial success upon this foundation, he felt that he should 
be fairly entitled to share in the gains, which not merely 
his loan of capital, but his foresight and courage had 
opened to Ballantyne. 

And it is quite possible that Scott might have suc- 
ceeded — or at all events not seriously failed — ^if he had 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, viii. 221. 


been content to stick to the printing firm of James Bal- 
lantyne and Co., and had not launched also into the book- 
selling and publishing firm of John Ballantyne and Co., 
or had never begun the wild and dangerous practice of 
forestalling his gains, and spending wealth which he had 
not earned. But when by way of feeding the printing 
press of James Ballantyne and Co., he started in 1809 
the bookselling and publishing firm of John Ballantyne 
and Co., using as his agent a man as inferior in sterling 
worth to James, as James was inferior in general ability 
to himself, he carefuUy dug a mine under his own feet, 
of which we can only say, that nothing except his genius 
could have prevented it from exploding long before it 
did. The truth was- evidently that James Ballantyne's 
respectful homage, and John's humorous appreciation, 
all but blinded Scott's eyes to the utter inadequacy of 
either of these men, especially the latter, to supply the 
deficiencies of his own character for conducting business 
of this kind with proper discretion. James Ballantyne, 
who was pompous and indolent, though thoroughly 
honest, and not without some intellectual insight, Scott 
used to call Aldiborontiphoscophornio. John, who was 
clever but frivolous, dissipated, and tricksy, he termed 
Rigdumfunnidos, or his "little Picaroon." It is clear 
from Mr. Lockhart's account of the latter that Scott 
not only did not respect, but despised him, though he 
cordially liked him, and that he passed over, in judging 
him, vices which in a brother or son of his own he would 
severely have rebuked. I believe myself that his liking 
for co-operation with both, was greatly founded on his 
feeling that they were simply creatures of his, to whom he 
could pretty weU dictate what he wanted, — colleagues whose 
inferiority to himself unconsciously flattered his pride. 

88 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

He was evidently inclined to resent bitterly the patronage 
of publishers. He sent word to Blackwood once with 
great hauteur, after some suggestion from that house 
had been made to him which appeared to him to interfere 
with his independence as an author, that he was one 
of " the Black Hussars " of literature, who would not en- 
dure that sort of treatment. Constable, who was really 
very liberal, hurt his sensitive pride through the Edin- 
burgh Review^ of which Jeffrey was editor. Thus the 
Ballantynes' great deficiency — that neither of them, had 
any independent capacity for the publishing business, which 
would in any way hamper his discretion — though this 
is just what commercial partners ought to have had, or 
they were not worth their salt, — was, I believe, precisely 
what induced this Black Hussar of literature, in spite 
of his otherwise considerable sagacity and knowledge of 
human nature, to select them for partners. 

And yet it is strange that he not only chose them, but 
chose the inferior and lighter-headed of the two for far the 
most important and difficult of the two businesses. In the 
printing concern there was at least this to be said, that 
of part of the business — the selection of type and the 
superintendence of the executive part, — James Ballan- 
tyne was a good judge. He was never apparently a 
good man of business, for he kept no strong hand over 
the expenditure and accounts, which is the core of success 
in every concern. But he understood types ; and his 
customers were publishers, a wealthy and judicious class, 
who were not likely all to fail together. But to select a 
" Rigdumfunnidos," — a dissipated comic-song singer and 
horse-fancier, — for the head of a publishing concern, was 
indeed a kind of insanity. It is told of John Ballantyne, 
that after the • successful negotiation with Constable for 


Roh Roy, and while " hopping up and down in his glee," 
he exclaimed, " '■ Is Eob's gun here, Mr. Scott 1 Would 
you object to my trying the old barrel with a few de 
joij?' 'Nay, Mr. Puff,' said Scott, 'it would burst 
and blow you to the devil before your time.' 'Johnny, 
my man,' said Constable, ' what the mischief puts 
drawing at sight into you7' head 1 ' Scott laughed 
heartily at this innuendo ; and then observing that the 
little man felt somewhat sore, called attention to the notes 
of a bird in the adjoining shrubbery. ' And by-the-bye,* 
said he, as they continued listening, ' 'tis a long time, 
Johnny, since we have had " The Cobbler of Kelso." ' 
Mr. Puff forthwith jumped up on a mass oi stone, and 
seating himself in the proper attitude of one working with 
an awl, began a favourite interlude, mimicking a certain 
son of Crispin, at whose stall Scott and he had often 
lingered when they were schoolboys, and a blackbird, the 
only companion of his cell, that used to sing to him while 
he talked and whistled to it all day long. With this 
performance Scott was always delighted. Nothing could be 
richer than the contrast of the bird's wild, sweet notes, 
some of which he imitated with wonderful skill, and the ac- 
companiment of the cobbler's hoarse, cracked voice, uttering 
all manner of endearing epithets, which Johnny multiplied 
and varied in a style worthy of the old women in Eabelais 
at the birth of Pantagruel." ^ That passage gives pre- 
cisely the kind of estimation in which John Ballantyne 
was held both by Scott and Constable. And yet it was 
to him that Scott entrusted the dangerous and difficult 
duty of setting up a new publishing house as a rival to 
the best publishers of the day. No doubt Scott really 

* Lockhart's Life of Scott, v. 218. - 

90 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

relied on his own judgment for working the publishing 
house. But except where his own books were concerned, 
no judgment could have been worse. In the first place he 
was always wanting to do literary jobs for a friend, and so 
advised the publishing of all sorts of unsaleable books, be- 
cause his friends desired to write them. In the next place, 
ho w^as a genuine historian, and one of the antiquarian 
kind himself; he was himself really interested in all sorts 
of historical and antiquarian issues, — and very mistakenly 
gave the public credit for wishing to know what he him- 
self wished to know. I should add that Scott's good 
nature and kindness of heart not only led him to help on 
many books which he knew in himself could never 
answer, and some which, as he well knew, would be alto- 
gether worthless, but that it greatly biassed his own 
intellectual judgment. ISTothing can be plainer than that 
he really held his intimate friend, Joanna Baillie, a very 
great dramatic poet, a much greater poet than himself, for 
instance ; one fit to be even mentioned as following — at a 
distance — in the track of Shakespeare. He supposes 
Erskine to exhort him thus : — 

" Or, if to touch sucli chord be thine, 
Restore the ancient tragic line, 
And emulate the notes that rung 
From the wild harp which silent hung 
By silver Avon's holy shore, 
Till twice a hundred years roll'd o'er, — 
When she, the bold enchantress, came 
With fearless hand and heart on flame, 
From the pale willow snatch'd the treasure. 
And swept it with a kindred measure, 
Till Avon's swans, while rung the grove 
With Montfort's hate and Basil's love. 
Awakening at the inspired strain, 
Deem'd their own Shakespeare lived again." 


Avon's swans must have been Avon's geese, I think, if 
they had deemed anything of the kind. Joanna Baillie's 
dramas are " nice," and rather dull ; now and then she 
can write a song with the ease and sweetness that suggest 
Shakespearian echoes. But Scott's judgment was obviously 
blinded by his just and warm regard for Joanna Baillie 

Of course with such interfering causes to bring unsale- 
able books to the house — of course I do not mean that 
John Ballantyne and Co. pubHshed for Joanna Bail- 
lie, or that they would have lost by it if they had — the 
new firm pubhshed all sorts of books which did not sell 
at all ; while John Ballantyne himself indulged in a great 
many expenses and dissipations, for which John Ballan- 
tyne and Co. had to pay. Nor was it very easy for a 
partner who himself drew bills on the future — even 
though he were the well-spring of all the paying business 
the company had — to be very severe on a fellow-partner 
who supplied his pecuniary needs in the same way. 
At all events, there is no question that all through 1813 
and 1814 Scott was kept in constant suspense and fear of 
bankruptcy, by the ill-success of John Ballantyne and 
Co., and the utter want of straightforwardness in John 
Ballantyne himself as to the bills out, and which had 
to be provided against. It was the publication of Waver- 
ley, and the consequent opening up of the richest vein 
not only in Scott's own genius, but in his popularity with 
the public, which alone ended these alarms ; and the 
many unsaleable works of John Ballantyne and Co. 
were then gradually disposed of to Constable and others, 
to their own great loss, as part of the conditions on which 
they received a share in the copyright of the wonderful 
novels which sold like wildfire. But though in this way 

93 SIE WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

the publishing business of John Ballantyne and Co. 
was saved, and its affairs pretty decently wound up, the 
printing firm remained saddled with some of their obliga- 
tions ; while Constable's business, on which Scott de- 
pended for the means with which he was buying his 
estate, building his castle, and settling money on his 
daughter-in-law, was seriously injured by the purchase of 
all this unsaleable stock. 

I do not think that any one who looks into the compli- 
cated controversy between the representatives of the Bal- 
lantynes and Mr. Lockhart, concerning these matters, can 
be content with Mr. Lockhart's — no doubt perfectly sincere 
— ^judgment on the case. It is obvious that amidst these 
intricate accounts, he fell into one or two serious blunders 
— blunders very unjust to James Ballantyne. And without 
pretending to have myself formed any minute judgment 
on the details, I think the following points clear : — 
(1.) That James Ballantyne was very severely judged by 
Mr. Lockharc, on grounds which were never alleged by 
Scott against him at all, — indeed on grounds on which 
he was expressly exempted from all blame by Sir Walter. 
(2.) That Sir Walter Scott was very severely judged by 
the representatives of the Ballantynes, on grounds on 
which James Ballantyne himself never brought any charge 
against him ; on the contrary, he declared that he had no 
charge to bring. (3.) That both Scott and his part- 
ners invited ruin by freely spending gains which they 
only expected to earn, and that in this Scott certainly set 
an example which he could hardly expect feebler men not 
to follow. On the whole, I think the troubles with the 
Ballantyne brothers brought to light not only that eager 
gambling spirit in him, which his grandfather indulged 
with better success and more moderation when he bought 


the hunter with money destined for a flock of sheep, and 
then gave up gambling for ever, but a tendency still more 
dangerous^ and in some respects involving an even greater 
moral defect, — I mean a tendency, chiefly due, I think, 
to a very deep-seated pride, — to prefer inferior men as 
working colleagues in business. And yet it is clear that if 
Scott were to dabble in publishing at all, he really needed 
the check of men of larger experience, and less literary 
turn of mind. The great majority of consumers of popular 
literature are not, and indeed will hardly ever be, literary 
men ; and that is precisely why a publisher who is not, in 
the main, literary, — who looks on authors' MSS. for the 
most part with distrust and suspicion, much as a rich man 
looks at a begging-letter, or a sober and judicious fish at 
an angler's fly, — is so much less likely to run aground 
than such a man as Scott. The untried author should be 
regarded by a wise publisher as a natural enemy, — an 
enemy indeed of a class, rare specimens whereof will 
always be his best friends, and who, therefore, should not 
be needlessly afironted — but also as one of a class of 
whom nineteen out of every twenty will dangle before the 
publisher's eyes wiles and hopes and expectations of the 
most dangerous and illusory character, — which constitute 
indeed the very perils that it is his true function in life 
skilfully to evade. The Ballantynes were quite unfit for 
this function ; first, they had not the experience requisite 
for it ; next, they were altogether too much under Scott's 
influence, ^o wonder that the partnership came to no 
good, and left behind it the germs of calamity even more 
serious still. 

94 SIS WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 



In the summer of 1814, Scott took up again and com- 
pleted — almost at a single heat, — a fragment of a Jacobite 
story, begun in 1805 and then laid aside. It was pub- 
lished anonymously, and its astonishing success turned 
back again the scales of Scott's fortunes, already inclining 
ominously towards a catastrophe. This story was Waver- 
ley. Mr. Carlyle has praised Waverley above its fellows. 
" On the whole, contrasting Waverley, which was care- 
fully written, with most of its followers which were 
written extempore, one may regret the extempore method." 
This is, however, a very unfortunate judgment. JN'ot one 
of the whole series of novels appears to have been written 
more completely extempore than the great bulk of Waver- 
Uy, including almost everything that made it either popular 
with the million or fascinating to the fastidious ; and it 
is even likely that this is one of the causes of its excel- 

" The last two volumes," says Scott, in a letter to Mr. 
Morritt, " were written in three weeks." And here is 
Mr. Lockhart's description of the effect which Scott's in- 
cessant toil during the composition, produced on a friend 
whose window happened to command the novelist's 
study : — 


" Happening to pass througli Edinburgh in June, 1814, I 
dined one day with the gentleman in question (now th§ 
Honourable William Menzies, one of the Supreme Judges at 
the Cape of Good Hope), whose residence was then in George 
Street, situated very near to, and at right angles with, 
North Castle Street. It was a party of very young persons, 
most of them, like Menzies and myself, destined for the 
Bar of Scotland, all gay and thoughtless, enjoying the first 
flush of manhood, with little remembrance of the yesterday, 
or care of the morrow. When my companion's worthy father 
and uncle, after seeing two or three bottles go round, left the 
juveniles to themselves, the weather being hot, we adjourned 
to a library which had one large window looking northwards. 
After carousing here for an hour or more, I observed that a 
shade had come over the aspect of my friend, who hap- 
pened to be placed immediately opposite to myself, and said 
something that intimated a fear of his being unwell. ' No,' 
said he, ' I shall be well enough presently, if you will only 
let me sit where you are, and take my chair ; for there is a 
confounded hand in sight of me here, which has often 
bothered me before, and now it won't let me fill my glass 
with a good will.' I rose to change places with him accord- 
ingly, and he pointed out to me this hand, which, like the 
writing on Belshazzar's wall, disturbed his hour of hilarity. 

* Since we sat down,' he said, ' I have been watching it — 
it fascinates my eye — it never stops — page after page is 
finished, and thrown on that heap of MS., and still it goes on 
unwearied ; and so it will be till candles are brought in, and 
God knows how long after that. It is the same every night 
— I can't stand a sight of it when I am not at my books.' 

* Some stupid, dogged engrossing clerk, probably,' ex- 
claimed myself, ' or some other giddy youth in our society.* 

* No, boys,' said our host ; ' I well know what hand it is — 
'tis Walter Scott's.' " ^ 

If that is not extempore writing, it is difficult to say 
what extempore writing is. But in truth there is no 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, iv. lVl-3. 


evidence that any one of the novels was laboured, or even 
so much as carefully composed. Scott's method of com- 
position was always the same; and, when writing an 
imaginative work, the rate of progress seems to have 
been pretty even, depending much more on the absence of 
disturbing engagements, than on any mental irregularity. 
The morning was always his brightest time ; but morning 
or evening, in country or in town, well or ill, writing 
with his own pen or dictating to an amanuensis in the 
intervals of screaming-fits due to the torture of cramp in 
the stomach, Scott spun away at his imaginative web 
almost as evenly as a silkworm spins at its golden cocoon. 
Nor can I detect the slightest trace of any difference in 
quality between the stories, such as can be reasonably 
ascribed to comparative care or haste. There are diffe- 
rences, and even great differences, of course, ascribable to 
the less or greater suitability of the subject chosen to 
Scott's genius, but I can find no trace of the sort of 
cause to which Mr. Carlyle refers. Thus, few, I suppose, 
would hesitate to say that while Old Mortality is very 
near, if not quite, the finest of Scott's works, The 
Black Dwarf is not far from the other end of the scale. 
Yet the two were written in immediate succession (TJie 
Black Dwarf being the first of the two), and were pub- 
lished together, as the first series of Tales of my Land- 
lord, in 1816. Nor do I think that any competent critic 
would find any clear deterioration of quality in the novels 
of the later years, — excepting of course the two written 
after the stroke of paralysis. It is true, of course, that 
some of the subjects which most powerfully stirred his 
imagination were among his earlier themes, and that 
he could not effectually use the same subject twice, 
though he now and then tried it. But making allowance 


for this consideration, the imaginative power of the 
novels is as astonishingly even as the rate of composition 
itself. For my own part, I greatly prefer Tlie Fortunes of 
Nigel (which was written in 1822) to Waverley which 
was begun in 1805, and finished in 1814, and though 
very many better critics would probably decidedly dis- 
agree, I do not think that any of them would consider 
this preference grotesque or purely capricious. Indeed, 
though Anne of Geierstein, — the last composed before 
Scott's stroke, — would hardly seem to any careful judge 
the equal of Waverley, I do not much doubt that if it 
had appeared in place of Waverley, it would have excited 
very nearly as much interest and admiration; nor that 
had Waverley appeared in 1829, in place of Anne of 
Geierstein, it would have failed to excite very much more. 
In these fourteen most effective years of Scott's literary life, 
during which he wrote twenty-three novels besides 
shorter tales, the best stories appear to have been on the 
whole the most rapidly written, probably because they 
took the strongest hold of the author's imagination. 

Till near the close of his career as an author, Scott 
never avowed his responsibility for any of these series of 
novels, and even took some pains to mystify the public 
as to the identity between the author of Waverley and 
the author of Tales of my Landlord. The care with 
which the secret was kept is imputed by Mr. Lockhart in 
some degree to the habit of mystery which had grown 
upon Scott during his secret partnership with the Eallan- 
tynes ; but in this he seems to be confounding two very 
different phases of Scott's character. No doubt he was, 
as a professional man, a little ashamed of his commercial 
speculation, and unwilling to betray it. But he was far 
from ashamed of his literary enterprise, though it seems 


98 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

that he was at first very anxious lest a comparative 
failure, or even a mere moderate success, in a less am- 
bitious sphere than that of poetry, should endanger the 
great reputation he had gained as a poet. That was 
apparently the first reason for secrecy. But, over and 
above this, it is clear that the mystery stimulated Scott's 
imagination and saved him trouble as well. He was 
obviously more free under the veil — free from the liability 
of having to answer for the views of life or history 
suggested in his stories ; but besides this, what was of 
more importance to him, the slight disguise stimulated his 
sense of humour, and gratified the whimsical, boyish 
pleasure which he always had in acting an imaginary 
character. He used to talk of himself as a sort of Abon 
Hassan — a private man one day, and acting the part of a 
monarch the next — with the kind of glee which indicated 
a real delight in the change of parts, and I have little 
doubt that he threw himself with the more gusto into 
characters very different from his own, in consequence of 
the pleasure it gave him to conceive his friends hopelessly 
misled by this display of traits, with which he supposed 
that they could not have credited him even in imagination. 
Thus besides relieving him of a host of compliments which 
he did not enjoy, and enabling him the better to evade 
an ill-bred curiosity, the disguise no doubt was the same 
sort of fillip to the fancy which a mask and domino or a 
fancy dress are to that of their wearers. Even in a disguise 
a man cannot cease to be himself ; but he can get rid of 
his improperly *' imputed " righteousness — often the 
greatest burden he has to bear — and of all the expectations 
formed on the strength, as Mr. Clough says, — 

" Of having been what one has been, 
"Wliat one thinks one is, or thinks that others suppose one." 


To some men the freedom of this disguise is a real 
danger and temptation. It never could have been so to 
Scott, who was in the main one of the simplest as well as 
the boldest and proudest of men. And as most men 
perhaps would admit that a good deal of even the best part 
of their nature is rather suppressed than expressed by the 
name by which they are known in the world, Scott must 
have felt this in a far higher degree, and probably re- 
garded the manifold characters under which he was known 
to society, as representing him in some respects more 
justly than any individual name could have done. His 
mind ranged hither and thither over a wide field — far 
beyond that of his actual experience, — and probably 
ranged over it all the more easily for not being absolutely 
tethered to a single class of associations by any public 
confession of his authorship. After all, when it became 
universally known that Scott was the only author of all 
these tales, it may be doubted whether the public thought 
as adequately of the imaginative efforts which had created 
them, as they did while they remained in some doubt 
whether there was a multiplicity of agencies at work, or 
only one. The uncertainty helped them to realize the 
many lives which were really led by the author of all 
these tales, more completely than any confession of the 
individual authorship could have done. The shrinking 
of activity in public curiosity and wonder which follows 
the final determination of such ambiguities, is very apt to 
result rather in a dwindling of the imaginative effort to 
enter into the genius which gave rise to them, than in an 
increase of respect for so manifold a creative power. 

When Scott wrote, such fertility as his in the produc- 
tion of novels was regarded with amazement approaching 
to absolute incredulity. Yet he was in this respect only 

H 2 


the advanced -guard of a not inconsiderable class of men 
and women who have a special gift for pouring out story- 
after story, containing a great variety of figures, while re- , 
tainins: a certain even level of merit. There is more than 
one novelist of the present day who has far surpassed 
Scott in the number of his tales, and one at least of very 
high repute, who has, I believe, produced more even 
within the same time. Eut though to our larger expe- 
rience, Scott's achievement, in respect of mere fertility, is 
by no means the miracle which it once seemed, I do not 
think one of his successors can compare with him for a 
moment in the ease and truth with which he painted, 
not merely the life of his own time and country — seldom 
indeed that of precisely his own time — but that of days 
long past, and often too of scenes far distant. The most 
powerful of all his stories, Old Mortality, was the story of a 
period more than a century and a quarter before he wrote; 
and others,- -which though inferior to this in force, are 
nevertheless, when compared with the so-called historical 
romances of any other English writer, what sunlight is to 
moonlight, if you can say as much for the latter as to 
admit even that comparison, — go back to the period of the 
Tudors, that is, two centuries and a half. Quentin 
Duricard, which is all but amongst the best, runs back 
farther still, far into the previous century, while Ivanhoe 
and The Talisman, though not among the greatest of 
Scott's works, carry us back more than five hundred years. 
The new class of extempore novel writers, though more 
considerable than, sixty years ago, any one could have 
expected ever to see it, is still limited, and on any high 
level of merit will probably always be limited, to the 
delineation of the times of which the narrator has personal 
experience. Scott seemed to have had something very 


like personal experience of a few centuries at least, judging 
by the ease and freshness with which he poured out his 
stories of these centuries, and though no one can pretend 
that even he could describe the period of the Tudors as 
Miss Austen described the country parsons and squires of 
George the Third's reign, or as Mr. Trollope describes the 
politicians and hunting-men of Queen Victoria's, it is never- 
theless the evidence of a greater imagination to make us live 
so familiarly as Scott does amidst the political and religious 
controversies of two or three centuries' duration, to be the 
actual witnesses, as it were, of Margaret of Anjou's throes 
of vain ambition, and Mary Stuart's fascinating remorse, 
and Elizabeth's domineering and jealous balancings of 
noble against noble, of James the First's shrewd pedantries, 
and the Eegent Murray's large forethought, of the politic 
craft of Argyle, the courtly ruthlessness of Claverhouse, 
and the high-bred clemency of Monmouth, than to reflect 
in countless modifications the freaks, figures, and fashions 
of our own time. 

The most striking feature of Scott's romances is that, 
for the most part, they are pivoted on public rather than 
mere private interests and passions. With but few excep- 
tions — [The Antiquary, St. RonarCs Well, and Guy Man- 
nering are the most important) — Scott's novels give us an 
imaginative view, not of mere individuals, but of indi- 
viduals as they are afiected by the public strifes and social 
divisions of the age. And this it is which gives his books 
so large an interest for old and young, soldiers and states- 
men, the world of society and the recluse, alike. You can 
hardly read any novel of Scott's and not become better 
aware what public life and political issues mean. And 
yet there is no artificiality, no elaborate attitudinizing 
before the antique mirrors of the past, like Bulwer's, no 

102 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

dressing out of clothes-horses like G. P. E. James. The 
boldness and freshness of the present are carried back into 
the past, and you see Papists and Puritans, Cavaliers and 
Roundheads, Jews, Jacobites, and freebooters, preachers, 
schoolmasters, mercenary soldiers, gipsies, and beggars, all 
living the sort of life which the reader feels that in their 
circumstances and under the same conditions of time and 
place and parentage, he might have lived too. Indeed, 
no man can read Scott without being more of a public 
man, whereas the ordinary novel tends to make its readers 
rather less of one than before. 

Next, though most of these stories are rightly called 
romances, no one can avoid observing that they give that 
side of life which is unromantic, quite as vigorously as the 
romantic side. This was not true of Scott's poems, which 
only expressed one-half of his nature, and were almost pure 
romances. Eut in the novels the business of life is even 
better portrayed than its sentiments. Mr. Bagehot, one of 
the ablest of Scott's critics, has pointed out this admirably 
in his essay on The Waver ley Novels. " Many historical 
novelists," he says, " especialy those who with care and 
pains have read up the detail, are often evidently in 
a strait how to pass from their history to their sentiment. 
The fancy of Sir Walter could not help connecting the 
two. If he had given us the English side of the race to 
Derby, he would have described the Bank of England 
paying in sixpences, and also the loves of the cashier." 
No one who knows the novels well can question this. 
Fergus Maclvor's ways and means, his careful arrange- 
ments for receiving subsidies in black mail, are as care- 
fully recorded as his lavish highland hospitalities ; and 
■when he sends his silver cup to the Gaelic bard who 
chaunts his greatness, the faithful historian does not for- 


get to let us know that the cup is his last, and that he is 
hard-pressed for the generosities of the future. So too 
the habitual thievishness of the highlanders is pressed 
upon us quite as vividly as their gallantry and supersti- 
tions. And so careful is Sir Walter to paint the petty 
pedantries of the Scotch traditional conservatism, that he 
"will not spare even Charles Edward — of whom he draws 
so graceful a picture — the humiliation of submitting to 
old Bradwardine's " solemn act of homage," but makes him 
go through the absurd ceremony of placing his foot on a 
cushion to have its brogue unlatched by the dry old 
enthusiast of heraldic lore. Indeed it was because Scott 
so much enjoyed the contrast between the high sentiment 
of life and its dry and often absurd detail, that his imagi- 
nation found so much freer a vent in the historical 
romance, than it ever found in the romantic poem. 
Yet he clearly needed the romantic excitement of pictu- 
resque scenes and historical interests, too. I do not 
think he would ever have gained any brilliant success in 
the narrower region of the domestic novel. He said him- 
self, in expressing his admiration of Miss Austen, " The big 
bow-wow strain I can do myself, like any now going, but 
the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace 
things and characters interesting, from the truth of the 
description and the sentiment, is denied to me." Indeed 
he tried it to some extent in St. Eonan^s Well, and so far 
as he tried it, I think he failed. Scott needed a certain 
largeness of type, a strongly-marked class-life, and, where 
it was possible, a free, out-of-doors life, for his delinea- 
tions. 1^0 one could paint beggars and gipsies, and wan- 
dering fiddlers, and mercenary soldiers, and peasants and 
farmers and lawyers, and magistrates, and preachers, and 
courtiers, and statesmen, and best of all perhaps queens 

104 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

and kings, with anything like his ability. But when it 
came to describing the small differences of manner, diffe- 
rences not due to external habits, so much as to internal 
sentiment or education, or mere domestic circumstance, 
he was beyond his proper field. In the sketch of the St. 
Ronan's Spa and the company at the tahle-dliote, he is 
of course somewhere near the mark, — he was too able a 
man to fall far short of success in anything he really gave 
to the world; but it is not interesting. Miss Austen 
would have made Lady Penelope Penfeather a hundred 
times as amusing. We turn to Meg Dods and Touch- 
wood, and Cargill, and Captain Jekyl, and Sir Bingo 
Binks, and to Clara Mowbray, — i. e, to the lives really 
moulded by large and specific causes, for enjoyment, and 
leave the small gossip of the company at the Wells as, 
relatively at least, a failure. And it is well for all the world 
that it was so. The domestic novel, when really of the 
highest kind, ^'s no doubt a perfect work of art, and an 
unfailing source of amusement j but it has nothing of the 
tonic influence, the large instructiveness, the stimulating 
intellectual air, of Scott's historic tales. Even when Scott 
is farthest from reality — as in Ivanhoe or The Monas- 
tery — he makes you open your eyes to all sorts of histo- 
rical conditions to which you would otherwise be blind. 
The domestic novel, even when its art is perfect, gives 
little but pleasure at the best ; at the worst it is simply 
scandal idealized. 

Scott often confessed his contempt for his own heroes. 
He said of Edward Waverley, for instance, that he 
was "a sneaking piece of imbecility," and that "if he 
had married Elora, she woiJd have set him up upon the 
chimney-piece as Count Borowlaski's wife used to do 
with him. I am a bad hand at depicting a hero, pro- 


perly so called, and have an unfortunate propensity for 
the dubious characters of borderers, buccaneers, highland 
robbers, and all others of a Robin- Hood description." ^ In 
another letter he says, " My rogue always, in despite of 
me, turns out my hero."^ And it seems very likely that 
in most of the situations Scott describes so well, his own 
course would have been that of his wilder impulses, 
and not that of his reason. Assuredly he would never 
have stopped hesitating on the line between opposite 
courses as his Waverleys, his Mortons, his Osbaldistones 
do. Whenever he was really involved in a party strife, 
he flung prudence and impartiality to the winds, and 
went in like the hearty partisan which his strong im- 
pulses made of him. But granting this, I do not agree 
with his condemnation of all his own colourless heroes. 
However much they differed in nature from Scott himself, 
the even balance of their reason against their sympathies 
is certainly well conceived, is in itself natural, and is an 
admirable expedient for effecting that which was pro- 
bably its real use to Scott, — the affording an opportunity 
for the delineation of all the pros and cons of the case, so 
that the characters on both sides of the struggle should 
be properly understood. Scott's imagination was clearly 
far wider — was far more permeated with the fixed air of 
sound judgment — than his practical impulses. He needed 
a machinery for displaying his insight into both sides of a 
public quarrel, and his colourless heroes gave him the 
instrument he needed. Eoth in Morton's case (in Old 
Mortality), and in Waverley's, the hesitation is certainly 
well described. Indeed in relation to the controversy 
between Covenanters and Eoyalists, while his political 

^ Lockhart's Life of Scott, iv. 175-6. 
2 Lockhart's Life of Scott, iv. 46, 

106 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

and martial prepossessions went with Claverhouse, his 
reason and educated moral feeling certainly were clearly 
identified with Morton. 

It is, however, obviously true that Scott's heroes are 
mostly created for the sake of the facility they give in de- 
lineating the other characters, and not the other characters 
for the sake of the heroes. They are the imaginative 
neutral ground, as it were, on which opposing influences 
are brought to play ; and what Scott best loved to paint 
was those who^ whether by nature, by inheritance, or by 
choice, had become unique and characteristic types of 
one-sided feeling, not those who were merely in process of 
growth, and had not ranged themselves at all. Mr. 
Carlyle, who, as I have said before, places Scott's romances 
far below their real level, maintains that these great 
types of his are drawn from the outside, and not made 
actually to live. " His Bailie Jarvies, Dinmonts, Dal- 
gettys (for their name is legion), do look and talk like 
what they give themselves out for ; they are, if not 
created and made poetically alive, yet deceptively enacted 
as a good player might do them. What more is wanted, 
then ? For the reader lying on a sofa, nothing more ; yet 
for another sort of reader much. It were a long chapter to 
unfold the difference in drawing a character between a 
Scott and a Shakespeare or Goethe. Yet it is a difi'erence 
literally immense ; they are of a difl'erent species ; the 
value of the one is not to be counted in the coin of the 
other. We might say in a short word, which covers a long 
matter, that your Shakespeare fashions his characters from 
the heart outwards; your Scott fashions them from the 
skin inwards, never getting near the heart of them. The 
one set become living men and women ; the other amount 
to little more than mechanical cases, deceptively painted 


antomatons." ^ And then he goes on to contrast Fenella in 
Peveril of the Peak with Goethe's Mignon. Mr. Car- 
lyle could hardly have chosen a less fair comparison. If 
Goethe is to he judged by his women, let Scott he judged 
by his men. So judged, I think Scott will, as a painter 
of character — of course, I am not now speaking of him as a 
poet, — come out far above Goethe. Excepting the hero 
of his first drama (Gotz of the iron hand), which by the 
way was so much in Scott's line that his first essay in 
poetry was to translate it — not very well — I doubt if 
Goethe was ever successful with his pictures of men. 
Wilhelm Meister is, as Niebuhr truly said, "a mena- 
gerie of tame animals." Doubtless Goethe's women — cer- 
tainly his women of culture — are more truly and inwardly 
conceived and created than Scott's. Except Jeanie 
Deans and Madge WUdfije, and perhaps Lucy Ashton, 
Scott's women are apt to be uninteresting, either pink and 
white toys, or hardish women of the world But then no 
one can compare the men of the two writers, and not see 
Scott's vast pre-eminence on that side. 

I think the deficiency of his pictures of women, odd as 
it seems to say so, should be greatly attributed to his natural 
chivalry. His conception of women of his own or a higher 
class was always too romantic. He hardly ventured, as it 
were, in his tenderness for them, to look deeply into their 
little weaknesses and intricacies of character. With women 
of an inferior class, he had not this feeling. JN'othing 
can be more perfect than the manner in which he blends 
the dairy-woman and woman of business in Jeanie Deans, 
with the lover and the sister. But once make a woman 
beautiful, or in any way an object of homage to him, and 

^ Carljle's Miscellaneous Essays, iv. 174-5. 

108 SIR WALTEE SCOTT. [chap. 

Scott bowed so low before the image of her, that he could 
not go deep into her heart. He could no more have ana- 
lysed such a woman, as Thackeray analyzed Lady Castle- 
wood, or Amelia, or Becky, or as George Eliot analysed 
Rosamond Yincy, than he could have vivisected Camp or 
Maida. To some extent, therefore, Scott's pictures of women 
remain something in the style of the miniatures of the 
last age — bright and beautiful beings without any special 
character in them. He was dazzled by a fair heroine. He 
could not take them up into his imagination as real beings 
as he did men. But then how living are his men, whether 
coarse or noble ! What a picture, for instance, is that in 
A Legend of Montrose of the conceited, pragmatic, but 
prompt and dauntless soldier of fortune, rejecting Argyle's 
attempts to tamper with him, in the dungeon at Inverary, 
suddenly throwing himself on the disguised Duke so soon 
as he detects him by his voice, and wresting from him the 
means of his own liberation ! Who could read that scene 
and say for a moment that Dalgetty is painted " from the 
skin inwards " ? It was just Scott himself breathing his own 
life through the habits of a good specimen of the mercenary 
soldier — realizing where the spirit of hire would end, and 
the sense of honour would begin — and preferring, even in a 
dungeon, the audacious policy of a sudden attack to that 
of crafty negotiation. What a picture (and a very different 
one) again is that in Redgauntlet of Peter Peebles, the 
mad litigant, with face emaciated by poverty and anxiety, 
and rendered wild by " an insane lightness about the eyes," 
dashing into the English magistrate's court for a warrant 
against his fugitive counsel. Or, to take a third instance, 
as different as possible from either, how powerfully con- 
ceived is the situation in Old Mortality, where Balfour of 
Burley, in his fanatic fury at the defeat of his plan for a 


new rebellion, pushes the oak-tree, which connects his 
wild retreat with the outer world, into the stream, and 
tries to slay Morton for opposing him. In such scenes 
and a hundred others — for these are mere random examples 
— Scott undoubtedly painted his masculine figures from as 
deep and inward a conception of the character of the 
situation as Goethe ever attained, even in drawing Mignon, 
or Klarchen, or Gretchen. The distinction has no real 
existence. Goethe's pictures of women were no doubt the 
intuitions of genius ; and so are Scott's of men — and here 
and there of his women too. Professional women he can 
always paint with power. Meg Dods, the innkeeper, Meg 
Merrilies, the gipsy, Mause Headrigg, the Covenanter, 
Elspeth, the old fishwife in The Antiquary, and the old 
crones employed to nurse and watch, and lay out the 
corpse, in The Bride of Laynmermoor, are all in their way 
impressive figures. 

And even in relation to women of a rank more fasci- 
nating to Scott, and whose inner character was perhaps on 
that account, less familiar to his imagination, grant him but 
a few hints from history, and he draws a picture which, 
for vividness and brilliancy, may almost compare with 
Shakespeare's own studies in English history. Had 
Shakespeare painted the scene in The Abbot, in which 
Mary Stuart commands one of her Mary's in waiting to 
tell her at what bridal she last danced, and Mary Fleming 
blurts out the reference to the marriage of Sebastian at 
Holyrood, would any one hesitate to regard it as a stroke 
of genius worthy of the great dramatist '? This picture 
of the Queen's mind suddenly thrown off its balance, and 
betraying, in the agony of the moment, the fear and 
remorse which every association with Darnley conjured 
up, is painted " from the heart outwards," not " from the 

110 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap, 

skin inwards," if ever there were sucli a painting in the 
world. Scott hardly ever failed in painting kings or 
peasants, queens or peasant-women. There was something 
in the well-marked type of both to catch his imagina- 
tion, which can always hit off the grander features of 
royalty, and the homelier features of laborious humility. 
Is there any sketch traced in lines of more sweeping gran- 
deur and more impressive force than the following of Mary 
Stuart's lucid interval of remorse — lucid compared with her 
ordinary mood, though it was of a remorse that was almost 
delirious — which breaks in upon her hour of fascinating 
condescension 1 — 

" ' Are they not a lovely couple, my Fleming ? and is it not 
heart-rending to think that I must be their ruin ? ' 

" • Not so,' said Roland Graeme, ' it is we, gracious sove- 
reign, who will be your dehverers.' * £!x orihus farvu- 
lorum 1 ' said the queen, looking upward ; * if it is by the 
mouth of these children that heaven calls me to resume the 
stately thought*^ which become my birth and my rights, thou 
wilt grant them thy protection, and to me the power of 
rewarding their zeal.' Then turning to Fleming, she in- 
stantly added, ' Thou knowest, my friend, whether to make 
those who have served me happy, was not ever Mary's 
favourite pastime. When I have been rebnked by the stern 
preachers of the Calvinistic heresy — when I have seen the 
fierce countenances of my nobles averted from me, has it 
not been because I mixed in the harmless pleasures of the 
young and gay, and rather for the sake of their happiness 
than my own, have mingled in the masque, the song or 
the dance, with the youth of my household ? "Well, I repent 
not of it — though Knox termed it sia, and Morton degrada- 
tion — I was happy because I saw happiness around me: 
and woe betide the wretched jealousy that can extract guilt 
out of the overflowings of an unguarded gaiety ! — Fleming, 
if we are restored to our throne, shall we not have one 
bhthesome day at a bhthesome bridal, of which we must 
now name neither the bride nor the bridegroom ? But that 


bridegroom sliall have tlie barony of Blairgowrie, a fair 

gift even for a queen to give, and that bride's chaplet shall 

be twined with the fairest pearls that ever were found in the 

depths of Lochlomond ; and thou thyself, Mary Fleming, 

the best dresser of tires that ever busked the tresses of a 

queen, and who would scorn to touch those of any woman 

of lower rank — thou thyself shalt for my love twine them 

into the bride's tresses. — Look, my Fleming, suppose then 

such clustered locks as these of our Catherine, they would 

not put shame upon thy skill.' So saying she passed her 

hand fondly over the head of her youthful favourite, while 

her more aged attendant replied despondently, * Alas, 

madam, jouy thoughts stray far from home.' * They do, 

my Fleming,' said the queen, *but is it well or kind in 

you to call them back ? — God knows they have kept the 

perch this night but too closely. — Come, I will recall the 

gay vision, were it but to punish them. Yes, at that 

blithesome bridal, Mary herself shall forget the weight of 

sorrows, and the toil of state, and herself once more lead a 

measure. — At whose wedding was it that we last danced, 

my Fleming ? I think care has troubled my memory — yet 

something of it I should remember, can st thou not aid me ? 

I know thou canst.' 'Alas, madam,' repHed the lady. 

* What,' said Mary, * wilt thou not help us so far ? this is 

a peevish adherence to thine own graver opinion which holds 

our talk as folly. But thou art court-bred and wilt well 

understand me when I say the queen commands Lady 

Fleming to tell her when she led the last branle.' With a 

face deadly pale and a mien as if she were about to sink 

into the earth, the court-bred dame, no longer daring to 

refuse obedience, faltered out, ' Gracious lady — if my 

memory err not — it was at a masque in Holyrood — at the 

marriage of Sebastian.' The unhappy queen, who had 

hitherto listened with a melancholy smile, provoked by the 

reluctance with which the Lady Fleming brought out her 

story, at this ill-fated word interrupted her with a shriek 

so wild and loud that the vaulted apartment rang, and 

both Koland and Catherine sprung to their feet in the 

utmost terror and alarm. Meantime, Mary seemed, by the 

112 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

train of horrible ideas tlms suddenly excited, surprised not 
only beyond self-command, but for tbe moment beyond tbe 
verge of reason. ' Traitress,' she said to the Lady Fleming, 
* thou wouldst slay thy sovereign. Call my French guards — 
a moi / a moi ! mes Fran^ais ! — I am beset with traitors in 
mine own palace — they have murdered my husband — 
Bescue ! Rescue ! for the Queen of Scotland ! ' She started 
up from her chair — her features late so exquisitely lovely 
in their paleness, now inflamed with the fury of frenzy, and 
resembling those of a Bellona. ' We will take the field our- 
self,' she said ; ' warn the city — warn Lothian and Fife — 
saddle our Spanish barb, and bid French Paris see' our 
petronel be charged. Better to die at the head of our brave 
Scotsmen, like our grandfather at Flodden, than of a 
broken heart like our ill-starred father.' ' Be patient — be 
composed, dearest sovereign,' said Catherine; and then 
addressing Lady Fleming angrily, she added, ' How could 
you say aught that reminded her of her husband ? ' The 
word reached the ear of the unhappy princess who caught 
it up, speaking with great rapidity, * Husband ! — what 
husband ? Not his most Christian Majesty — he is ill at 
ease — he cannot mount on horseback — not him of the 
Lennox — but it was the Duke of Orkney thou wouldst say ?' 
' For God's love, madam, be patient ! ' said the Lady 
Fleming. But the queen's excited imagination could by no 
entreaty be diverted from its course. ' Bid him come hither 
to our aid,' she said, ' and bring with him his lambs, as he 
calls them — Bowton, Hay of Talla, Black Ormiston and 
his kinsman Hob — Fie, how swart they are, and how they 
smell of sulphur ! What ! closeted with Morton ? ISTay, if 
the Douglas and the Hepburn hatch the complot together, 
the bird when it breaks the shell will scare Scotland, will 
it not, my Fleming ? ' * She grows wilder and wilder,' said 
Fleming. ' We have too many hearers for these strange 
words.' 'Eoland," said Catherine, 'in the name of God 
begone ! — you cannot aid us here — leave us to deal with her 
alone — away — away ! " 

And equally fine is the scene in Kenilworth in which 


Elizabeth undertakes the reconciliation of the haughty 
rivals, Sussex and Leicester, unaware that in the course 
of the audience she herself will have to bear a great strain 
on her self-command, both in her feelings as a queen and 
her feelings as a lover. Her grand rebukes to both, her 
ill-concealed preference for Leicester, her whispered ridi- 
cule of Sussex, the impulses of tenderness which she 
stifles, the flashes of resentment to which she gives way, 
the triumph of policy over private feeling, her imperious 
impatience when she is baffled, her jealousy as she grows 
suspicious of a personal rival, her gratified pride and 
vanity when the suspicion is exchanged for the clear evi- 
dence, as she supposes, of Leicester's love, and her peremp- 
tory conclusion of the audience, bring before the mind a 
series of pictures far more vivid and impressive than 
the greatest of historical painters could fix on canvas, 
even at the cost of the labour of years. Even more 
brilliant, though not so sustained and difficult an effort 
of genius, is the later scene in the same story, in which 
Elizabeth drags the unhappy Countess of Leicester from 
her concealment in one of the grottoes of Kenilworth 
Castle, and strides off with her, in a fit of vindictive 
humiliation and Amazonian fury, to confront her with 
her husband. But this last scene no doubt is more in 
Scott's way. He can always paint women in their more 
masculine moods. Where he frequently fails is in the 
attempt to indicate the finer shades of women's nature. 
In Amy Eobsart herself, for example, he is by no means 
generally successful, though in an early scene her childish 
delight in the various orders and decorations of her 
husband is painted with much freshness and delicacy. 
But wherever, as in the case of queens, Scott can get a 
telling hint from actual history, he can always so use it 


114 SIB, WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

as to make history itself seem dim to the equivalent for 
it which he gives us. 

And yet, as every one knows, Scott was excessively 
free in his manipulations of history for the purposes of 
romance. In Kenilwortli he represents Shakespeare's 
playe as already in the mouths of courtiers and statesmen, 
though he lays the scene in the eighteenth year of Eliza- 
beth, when Shakespeare was hardly old enough to rob an 
orchard. In Woodstock, on the contrary, he insists, if 
you compare Sir Henry Lee's dates with the facts, that 
Shakespeare died twenty years at least before he actually 
died. The historical basis, again, of Woodstock and of 
Redgauntlet is thoroughly untrustworthy, and about all the 
minuter details of history, — unless so far as they were 
characteristic of the age, — I do not suppose that Scott 
in his romances ever troubled himself at all. And yet 
few historians — not even Scott himself when he exchanged 
romance for his'^jory — ever drew the great figures of history 
with so powerful a hand. In writing history and bio- 
graphy Scott has little or no advantage over very inferior 
men. His pictures of Swift, of Dryden, of I^apoleon, are 
in no way very vivid. It is only where he is working 
from the pure imagination, — though imagination stirred 
by historic study, — that he paints a picture which follows 
us about, as if with living eyes, instead of creating for us 
a mere series of lines and colours. Indeed, whether Scott 
draws truly or falsely, he draws with such genius that 
his pictures of Eichard and Saladin, of Louis XL and 
Charles the Bold, of Margaret of Anjou and Eene of 
Provence, of Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor, of Sussex 
and of Leicester, of James and Charles and Buckingham, 
of the two Dukes of Argyle — the Argyle of the time 
of the revolution, and the Argyle of George IL, — 


of Queen Caroline, of Claverhouse, and Monmouth, 
and of Eob Roy, will live in English literature beside 
Shakespeare's pictures — probably less faithful if moro 
imaginative — of John and Eichard and the later Henries, 
and all the great figures by whom they were surrounded. 
No historical portrait that we possess will take prece- 
dence — as a mere portrait — of Scott's brilliant study 
of James I. in The Fortunes of Nigel. Take this illus- 
tration for instance, where George Heriot the goldsmith 
(Jingling Geordie, as the king familiarly calls him) has 
just been speaking of Lord Huntinglen, as " a man of the 
old rough world that will drink and swear :" — 

« ( 

Geordie ! ' exclaimed the king, * these are auld-warld 
frailties, of whilk we dare not pronounce even ourselves 
absolutely free. But the warld grows worse from day to day, 
Geordie. The juveniles of this age may weel say with the 
poet, — 

" -^tas parentum pejor avis tulit 
Nos nequiores — '* 

This Dalgarno does not drink so much, aye or swear so much, 
as his father, but he wenches, Geordie, and he breaks his 
word and oath baith. As to what ye say of the leddy and 
the ministers, we are all fallible creatures, Geordie, priests 
and kings as weel as others ; and wha kens but what that 
may account for the difference between this Dalgarno and 
his father ? The earl is the vera soul of honour, and cares 
nae mair for warld's gear than a noble hound for the quest 
of a f oulmart ; but as for his son, he was like to brazen us 
all out — ourselves, Steenie, Baby Charles, and our Council, 
till he heard of the tocher, and then by my kingly crown he 
lap like a cock at a grossart ! These are discrepancies be- 
twixt parent and son not to be accounted for naturally, 
according to Baptista Porta, Michael Scott de secretis, and 
others. Ah, Jingling Geordie, if your clouting the caldron, 
and jingling on pots, pans, and veshels of all manner of 

I 2 

116 SIS WALTEE SCOTT. [crap. 

metal, liadna jingled a' your grammar out of your head, I 
could have touched on that matter to you at mair length.* 
.... Heriot inquired whether Lord Dalgarno had consented 
to do the Lady Hermione justice. * Troth, man, I have 
small douht that he will,' quoth the ting, 'I gave him the 
schedule of her worldly substance, which you delivered to us 
in the council, and we allowed him half an hour to chew 
the cud upon that. It is rare reading for bringing him to 
reason. I left Baby Charles and Steenie laying his duty 
before him, and if he can resist doing what they desire 
him, why I wish he would teach me the gate of it. 
Geordie, Jingling Geordie, it was grand to hear Baby 
Charles laying down the guilt of dissimulation, and Steenie 
lecturing on the turpitude of incontinence.' * I am afraid/ 
said George Heriot, more hastily than prudently, ' I might 
have thought of the old proverb of Satan reproving 
sin.' * Deil hae our saul, neighbour,' said the king, redden- 
ing, * but ye are not blate ! I gie ye licence to speak freely, 
and by our saul, ye do not let the privilege become lost, non 
utendo — it will suffer no negative prescription in your 
hands. Is it ^t, think ye, that Baby Charles should let 
his thoughts be publicly seen ? No, no, princes' thoughts 
are arcana imperii : qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare. 
Every liege subject is bound to speak the whole truth to the 
king, but there is nae reciprocity of obligation — and for 
Steenie having been whiles a dike-louper at a time, is it 
for you, who are bis goldsmith, and to whom, I doubt, he 
awes an uncomatable sum, to cast that up to him ? " 

Assuredly there is no undue favouring of Stuarts in 
such a picture as that. 

Scott's humour is, I think, of very different qualities in 
relation to different subjects. Certainly he was at times 
capable of considerable heaviness of hand, — of the Scotch 
" wut " which has been so irreverently treated by 
English critics. His rather elaborate jocular introductions, 
under the name of Jedediah Cleishbotham, are clearly 


laborious at times. And even his own letters to his 
daughter-in-law, which Mr. Lockhart seems to regard as 
models of tender playfulness and pleasantry, seem to me 
decidedly elephantine, l^ot unfrequently, too, his stereo- 
typed jokes weary. Dalgetty bores you almost as much as 
he would do in real life, — which is a great fault in art. Brad- 
wardine becomes a nuisance, and as for Sir Piercie Shafton, 
he is beyond endurance. Like some other Scotchmen of 
genius, Scott twanged away at any effective chord till it 
more than lost its expressiveness. But in dry humour, 
and in that higher humour which skilfully blends the 
ludicrous and the pathetic, so that it is hardly possible to 
separate between smiles and tears, Scott is a master. His 
canny innkeeper, who, having sent away all the pease- 
meal to the camp of the Covenanters, and all the oatmeal 
(with deep professions of duty) to the castle and its 
cavaliers, in compliance with the requisitions sent to 
him on each side, admits with a sigh to his daughter 
that " they maun gar wheat flour serve themsels for a 
blink," — his firm of solicitors. Greenhorn and Grinder- 
son, whose senior partner writes respectfully to clients in 
prosperity, and whose junior partner writes familiarly to 
those in adversity, — his arbitrary nabob who asks how the 
devil any one should be able to mix spices so well " as 
one who has been where they grow ;" — his little ragamuffin 
who indignantly denies that he has broken his promise 
not to gamble away his sixpences at pitch-and-toss because 
he has gambled them away at " neevie-neevie-nick-nack," — 
and similar figures abound in his tales, — are all creations 
which make one laugh inwardly as we read. But he has 
a much higher humour still, that inimitable power of 
shading off ignorance into knowledge and simplicity into 
wisdom, which makes his picture of Jeanie Deans, for 

118 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

instance, so liumorous as well as so affecting. When 
Jeanie reunites her father to her hushand by reminding the 
former how it would sometimes happen that " twa precious 
saints might pu' sundrywise like twa cows riving at the 
same hayband," she gives us an admirable instance of 
Scott's higher humour. Or take Jeanie Deans's letter to 
her father communicating to him the pardon of his 
daughter and her own interview with the Queen : — 

"Dearest and truly ho:!^oured Father. — This comes 
with my duty to inform you, that it has pleased God to 
redeem that captivitie of my poor sister, in respect the 
Queen's blessed Majesty, for whom we are ever bound to 
pray, hath redeemed her soul from the slayer, granting the 
ransom of her, whilk is ane pardon or reprieve. And I spoke 
with the Queen face to face, and yet live ; for she is not 
muckle differing from other grand leddies, saving that she 
has a stately presence, and een like a blue huntin' hawk's, 
whilk gaed throu' and throu' me like a Highland durk — And 
all this good wr.s, alway under the Great Giver, to whom all 
are but instruments, wrought for us by the Duk of Argile, 
wha is ane native true-hearted Scotsman, and not pridefu', 
like other folk we ken of: — and likewise skeely enow in bestial, 
whereof he has promised to gie me twa Devonshire kye, of 
which he is enamoured, although I do still hand by the real 
hawkit Airshire breed — and I have promised him a cheese ; 
and I wad wuss ye, if Gowans, the brockit cow, has a quey, 
that she suld suck her fill of milk, as I am given to under- 
stand he has none of that breed, and is not scomfu' but will 
take a thing frae a puir body, that it may lighten their heart 
of the loading of debt that they awe him. Also his honour 
the Duke will accept ane of our Dunlop cheeses, and it sail 
be my faut if a better was ever yearned in Lowden." — [Here 
follow some observations respecting the breed of cattle, and 
the produce of the dairy, which it is our intention to forward 
to the Board of Agriculture.] — " Nevertheless, these are but 
matters of the after-harvest, in respect of the great good 
which Providence hath gifted up with — and, in especial, poor 


Effie's life. And oh, my dear father, since it hath pleased 
God to be merciful to her, let her not want your free pardon, 
whilk will make her meet to be ane vessel of grace, and also 
a comfort to your ain graie hairs. Dear Father, will ye let 
the Laird ken that we have had friends strangely raised up 
to ns, and that the talent whilk he lent me will be thankfully 
repaid. I hae some of it to the fore ; and the rest of it is 
not knotted up in ane purse or napkin, but in ane wee bit 
paper, as is the fashion heir, whilk I am assured is gude for 
the siller. And, dear father, through Mr. Butler's means I 
hae gude friendship with the Duke, for there had been kind- 
ness between their forbears in the auld troublesome time 
byepast. And Mrs. Glass has been kind like my very 
mother. She has a braw house here, and lives bien and 
warm, wi' twa servant lasses, and a man and a callant in the 
shop. And she is "to send you doun a pound of her hie- 
dried, and some other tobaka, and we maun think of some 
propine for her, since her kindness hath been great. And 
the Duk is to send the pardon doun by an express mes- 
senger, in respect that I canna travel sae fast ; and I am to 
come doun wi' twa of his Honour's servants — that is, John 
Archibald, a decent elderly gentleman, that says he has seen 
you lang syne, when ye were buying beasts in the west frae 
the Laird of Aughtermuggitie — but maybe ye winna mind 
him — ony way, he's a civil man — and Mrs. Dolly Dutton, 
that is to be dairy -maid at Inverara : and they bring me on 
as far as Glasgo', whilk will make it nae pinch to win hame, 
whilk I desire of all things. May the Giver of all good 
things keep ye in your outgauns and incomings, whereof 
devoutly prayeth your loving dauter, 

"Jean Deans." 

This contains an example of Scott's rather heavy jocu- 
larity as well as giving us a fine illustration of his highest 
and deepest and sunniest humour. Coming where it 
does, the joke inserted about the Board of Agriculture is 
rather like the gambol of a rhinoceros trying to imitate 
the curvettings of a thoroughbred horse. 

120 SIP WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

Some of the finest touches of his humour are no doubt 
much heightened by his perfect command of the genius 
as well as the dialect of a peasantry, in whom a true 
culture of mind and sometimes also of heart is found in 
the closest possible contact with the humblest pursuits 
and the quaintest enthusiasm for them. But Scott, with 
all his turn for irony — and J\Ir. Lockhart says that even on 
his death-bed he used towards his children the same sort 
of good-humoured irony to which he had always accus- 
tomed them in his life — certainly never gives us any 
example of that highest irony which is found so frequently 
in Shakespeare, which touches the paradoxes of the 
spiritual life of the children of earth, and which reached 
its highest point in Isaiah. JS'ow and then in his latest 
diaries — the diaries written in his deep affliction — 
he comes near the edge of it. Once, for instance, he 
says, " What a strange scene if the surge of conversation 
could suddenly ebb like the tide, and show us the state of 
people's real minds ! 

* No eyes the rocks discover 
Which lurk beneath the deep.* 

Life could not be endured were it seen in reality." 
But this is not irony, only the sort of meditation which, 
in a mind inclined to thrust deep into the secrets of life's 
paradoxes, is apt to lead to irony. Scott, however, does 
not thrust deep in this direction. He met the cold steel 
which inflicts the deepest interior wounds, like a soldier, 
and never seems to have meditated on the higher paradoxes 
of life till reason reeled. The irony of Hamlet is far from 
Scott. His imagination was essentially one of distinct 
embodiment. He never even seemed so much as to con- 
template that sundering of substance and form, that rending 


away of outward garments, that unclothing of the soul, in 
order that it might be more effectually clothed upon, which 
is at the heart of anything that may be called spiritual 
irony. The constant abiding of his mind within the 
well-defined forms of some one or other of the conditions of 
outward life and manners, among the scores of different 
spheres of human habit, was, no doubt, one of the secrets 
of his genius ; but it was also its greatest limitation. 

122 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 



The very same causes which limited Scott's humour and 
irony to the commoner fields of experience, and prevented 
him from ever introducing into his stories characters of 
the highest type of moral thoughtfulness, gave to his own 
morality and religion, which were, I think, true to the 
core so far as they went, a shade of distinct conven- 
tionality. It is no doubt quite true, as he himself tells 
us, that he took more interest in his mercenaries and 
moss-troopers, outlaws, gipsies, and beggars, than he 
did in the fine ladies and gentlemen under a cloud 
whom he adopted as heroines and heroes. But that was 
the very sign of his conventionalism. Though he inte- 
rested himself more in these irregular persons, he hardly 
ever ventured to paint their inner life so as to show how 
little there was to choose between the sins of those who 
are at war with society and the sins of those who bend to 
the yoke of society. He widened rather than narrowed 
the chasm between the outlaw and the respectable citizen, 
even while he did not disguise his own romantic interest 
in the former. He extenuated, no doubt, the sins of all 
brave and violent defiers of the law, as distinguished from 
the sins of crafty and cunning abusers of the law. But 
the leaning he had to the former was, as he was willing to 


admit, what he regarded as a " naughty " leaning. He did 
not attempt for a moment to balance accounts between 
them and society. He paid his tribute as a matter of 
course to the established morality, and only put in a word 
or two by way of attempt to diminish the severity of the 
sentence on the bold transgressor. And then, where what 
is called the " law of honour " comes in to traverse the law 
of religion, he had no scruple in setting aside the latter 
in favour of the customs of gentlemen, without any 
attempt to justify that course. Yet it is evident from 
various passages in his writings that he held Christian 
duty inconsistent with duelling, and that he held himself 
a sincere Christian. ^ In spite of this, when he was fifty- 
six, and under no conceivable hurry or perturbation of 
feeling, but only concerned to defend his own conduct 
— ^which was indeed plainly right — as to a political dis- 
closure which he had made in his life of Napoleon, he 
asked his old friend WiUiam Clerk to be his second, if the 
expected challenge from General Gourgaud should come, 
and declared his firm intention of accepting it. On the 
strength of official evidence he had exposed some conduct 
of General Gourgaud's at St. Helena, which appeared to 
be far from honourable, and he thought it his duty on 
that account to submit to be shot at by General Gourgaud, 
if General Gourgaud had wished it. In writing to WiUiam 
Clerk to ask him to be his second, he says, " Like a 
man who finds himself in a scrape. General Gourgaud may 
wish to fight himself out of it, and if the quarrel should 
be tlirust on me, why, / will not baulk him, Jaclcie. He 
shall not dishonour the country through my sides, I can 
assure him." In other words, Scott acted just as he had 
made Waverley and others of his heroes act, on a code of 
honour which he knew to be false, and he must have felt 

124 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

in this case to be something worse. He thought himself 
at that time under the most stringent obligations both to 
his creditors and his children, to do all in his power to 
redeem himseK and his estate from debt. ]^ay, more, he 
held that his life was a trust from his. Creator, which he 
had no right to throw away merely because a man whom 
he had not really injured, was indulging a strong wish to 
injure him ; but he could so little brook the imputation of 
physical cowardice, that he was moral coward enough to 
resolve to meet General Gourgaud, if General Gourgaud 
lusted after a shot at him. JS'or is there any trace pre- 
served of so much as a moral scruple in his own mind on 
the subject, and this though there are clear traces in his 
other writings as to what he thought Christian morality 
required. But the Border chivalry was so strong in Scott 
that, on subjects of this kind at least, his morality was 
the conventional morality of a day rapidly passing 

He showed the same conventional feeling in his severity 
towards one of his own brothers who had been guilty of 
cowardice. Daniel Scott was the black sheep of the 
family. He got into difficulties in business, formed a bad 
connexion with an artful woman, and was sent to try his 
fortunes in the West Indies. There he was employed in 
some service against a body of refractory negroes — we do 
not know its exact nature — and apparently showed the 
white feather. Mr. Lockhart says that " he returned to 
Scotland a dishonoured man; and though he found shelter 
and compassion from his mother, his brother would never 
see him again. Nay, when, soon after, his health, 
shattered by dissolute indulgence, . . . gave way altogether, 
and he died, as yet a young man, the poet refused either 
to attend his funeral or to wear mourning for him, like the 


rest of his family." * Indeed lie always spoke of him as 
his "relative," not as his brother. Here again Scott's 
severity was due to his brother's failure as a " man of 
honour," i. e. in courage. He was forbearing enough with 
vices of a different kind ; made John Ballantyne's dissipa- 
tion the object rather of his jokes than of his indignation ; 
and not only mourned for him, but really grieved for him 
when he died. It is only fair to say, however, that for 
this conventional scorn of a weakness rather than a sin, 
Scott sorrowed sincerely later in life, and that in sketching 
the physical cowardice of Connochar in The Fair Maid of 
Perth, he deliberately made an attempt to atone for this 
hardness towards his brother by showing how frequently 
the foundation of cowardice may be laid in perfectly 
involuntary physical temperament, and pointing out with 
what noble elements of disposition it may be combined. 
But till reflection on many forms of human character had 
enlarged Scott's charity, and perhaps also the range of his 
speculative ethics, he remained a conventional moralist, 
and one, moreover, the type of whose conventional code 
was borrowed more from that of honour than from that of 
religious principle. There is one curious passage in his 
diary, written very near the end of his life, in which 
Scott even seems to declare that conventional standards of 
conduct are better, or at least safer, than religious standards 
of conduct. He says in his diary for the 15th April, 
1828, — "Dined with Sir Robert Inglis, and met Sir 
Thomas Acland, my old and kind friend. I was happy to 
see him. He may be considered now as the head of the 
religious party in the House of Commons — a powerful 
body which Wilberforce long commanded. It is a difficult 
situation, for the adaptation of religious motives to earthly 
^ Lockliart's Life of Scott, iii. 198-9. 

126 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

policy is apt — among the infinite delusions of the human 
heart — to be a snare."* His letters to his eldest son, 
the young cavalry officer, on his first start in life, are 
much admired by Mr. Lockhart, but to me they read 
a little hard, a little worldly, and extremely conven- 
tional. Conventionality was certainly to his mind almost 
a virtue. 

Ofenthusiasm in religion Scott always spoke very severely? 
both in his novels and in his letters and private diary. 
In writing to Lord Montague, he speaks of such enthusiasm 
as was then prevalent at Oxford, and which makes, he says, 
*' religion a motive and a pretext for particular lines of 
thinking in politics and in temporal affairs " [as if it could 
help doing that !] as " teaching a new way of going to the 
devil for God's sake," and this expressly, because when 
the young are infected with it, it disunites families, and 
sets " children in opposition to their parents." ^ He gives 
us, however, o^e reason for his dread of anything like en- 
thusiasm, which is not conventional ; — that it interferes 
with the submissive and tranquil mood which is the only 
true religious mood. Speaking in his diary of a weakness 
and fluttering at the heart, from which he had suffered, he 
says, " It is an awful sensation, and would have made an 
enthusiast of me, had I indulged my imagination on reli- 
gious subjects. I have been always careful to place my 
mind in the most tranquil posture which it can assume, 
during my private exercises of devotion." ^ And in this 
avoidance of indulging the imagination on religious, or 
even spiritual subjects, Scott goes far beyond Shakespeare. 
I do not think there is a single study in all his romances 

^ Lockhart's Life of Scott, ix, 231. 

2 Ibid., vii. 255-6. ^ Ibid., viii. 292. 


of wliat may be fairly called a pre-eminently spiritual 
character as such, though Jeanie Deans approaches nearest 
to it. The same may be • said of Shakespeare. But 
Shakespeare, though he has never drawn a pre-eminently 
spiritual character, often enough indulged his imagination 
while meditating on spiritual themes. 

123 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 



Between 1814 and the end of 1825, Scott's literary 
labour was interrupted only by one serious illness, and 
hardly interrupted by that, — by a few journeys, — one to 
Paris after the battle of Waterloo, and several to London, 
— and by the worry of a constant stream of intrusive visi- 
tors. Of his journeys he has left some records ; but I 
cannot say that I think Scott would ever have reached, as 
a mere observer and recorder, at all the high point which 
he reached directly his imagination went to work to create 
a story. That imagination was, indeed, far less subser- 
vient to his mere perceptions than to his constructive 
powers. PauVs Letters to his Kinsfolk — the records of his 
Paris journey after Waterloo — for instance, are not at all 
above the mark of a good special correspondent. His 
imagination was less the imagination of insight, than 
the imagination of one whose mind was a great kaleido- 
scope of human life and fortunes. But far more interrupt- 
ing than either illness or travel, was the lion-hunting of 
which Scott became the object, directly after the publica- 
tion of the earlier novels. In great measure, no doubt, on 
account of the mystery as to his authorship, his fame 
became something oppressive. At one time as many as 
sixteen parties of visitors applied to see Abbotsford in a 
single day. Strangers, — especially the American travel- 


lers of that day, who were much less reticent and more 
irrepressible than the American travellers of this, — would 
come to him without introductions, facetiously cry out 
" Prodigious ! " in imitation of Dominie Sampson, what- 
ever they were shown, inquire whether the new house 
was called Tullyveolan or Tillytudlem, cross-examine, 
with open note-books, as to Scott's age, and the age of his 
wife, and appear to be taken quite by surprise when they 
were bowed out without being asked to dine.^ In those 
days of high postage Scott's bill for letters " seldom came 
under 150Z. a year," and " as to coach parcels, they were a 
perfect ruination." On one occasion a mighty package 
came by post from the United States, for which Scott had 
to pay five pounds sterling. It contained a MS. play 
called The Cherokee Lovers, by a young lady of New York, 
who begged Scott to read and correct it, write a prologue 
and epilogue, get it put on the stage at Drury Lane, and 
negotiate with Constable or Murray for the copyright. In 
about a fortnight another packet not less formidable 
arrived, charged with a similar postage, which Scott, not 
grown cautious through experience, recklessly opened ; out 
jumped a duplicate copy of The Cherokee Lovers, with a 
second letter fi.'om the authoress, stating that as the wea- 
ther had been stormy, and she feared that something 
might have happened to her former MS., she had thought 
it prudent to send him a duplicate.^ Of course, when 
fame reached such a point as this, it became both a worry 
and a serious waste of money, and what was far more 
valuable than money, of time, privacy, and tranquillity of 
mind. And though no man ever bore such worries with 
the equanimity of Scott, no man ever received less plea- 

^ Lockhart's Life of Scott, v. 387. 
2 Lockhart's Life of Scott, v. 382. 

130 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

sure from tlie adulation of unknown and often vulgar and 
ignorant admirers. His real amusements were his trees 
and his friends. " Planting and pruning trees," he said, 
" I could work at from morning to night. There is a sort 
of self-congratulation, a little tickling self-flattery, in the 
idea that while you are pleasing and amusing yourself, 
you are seriously contributing to the future welfare of 
the country, and that your very acorn may send its future 
ribs of oak to future victories like Trafalgar," ^ — for the 
day of iron ships was not yet. And again, at a later 
stage of his planting : — " You can have no idea of the 
exquisite delight of a planter, — he is like a painter laying 
on his colours, — at every moment he sees his effects coming 
out. There is no art or occupation comparable to this ; it 
is full of past, present, and future enjojinent. I look 
back to the time when there was not a tree here, only bare 
heath ; I look round and see thousands of trees growing up, 
all of which, ± may say almost each of which, have received 
my personal attention. I remember, five years ago, look- 
ing forward with the most delighted expectation to this 
very hour, and as each year has passed, the expectation 
has gone on increasing. I do the same now. I anticipate 
what this plantation and that one will presently be, if only 
taken care of, and there is not a spot of which I do not 
watch the progress. Unlike building, or even painting, or 
indeed any other kind of pursuit, this has no end, and 
is never interrupted ; but goes on from day to day, and 
from year to year, with a perpetually augmenting interest. 
Farming I hate. What have I to do with fattening 
and killing beasts, or raising corn, only to cut it down, 
and to w;rangle with farmers about prices, and to be con- 
stantly at the mercy of the seasons? There can be no 
1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, iii. 288. 


such disappointments or annoyances in planting trees." * 
Scott indeed regarded planting as a mode of so moulding 
the form and colour of the outward world, that nature herself 
became indebted to him for finer outlines, richer masses of 
colour, and deeper shadows, as well as for more fertile and 
sheltered soils. And he was as skilful in producing the 
last result, as he was in the artistic effects of his plant- 
ing. In the essay on the planting of waste lands, he 
mentions a story, — drawn from his own experience, — of a 
planter, who having scooped out the lowest part of his 
land for enclosures, and " planted the wood round them in 
masses enlarged or contracted as the natural lying of the 
ground seemed to dictate," met, six years after these 
changes, his former tenant on the ground, and said to him, 

" I suppose, Mr. R , you will say I have ruined your 

farm by laying half of it into woodland ? " "I should have 

expected it, sir," answered Mr. E , "if you had told 

me beforehand what you were going to do ; but I am now 
of a very different opinion; and as I am looking for land 
at present, if you are inclined to take for the remaining 
sixty acres the same rent which I formerly gave for a hun- 
dred and twenty, I will give you an offer to that amount. 
I consider the benefit of the enclosing, and the complete 
shelter afforded to the fields, as an advantage which fairly 
counterbalances the loss of one-half of the land." ^ 

And Scott was not only thoughtful in his own 
planting, but induced his neighbours to become so too. 
So great was their regard for him, that many of them 
planted their estates as much with reference to the effect 
which their plantations would have on the view from 
Abbotsford, as with reference to the effect they would 

1 Lockbart's Life of Scott, vii. 287-8. 

2 Scott's Miscellaneous Prose Works, xxi. 22-3. 

K 2 

132 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

have on the view from their own grounds. Many was 
the consultation which he and his neighbours, Scott of 
Gala, for instance, and Mr. Henderson of Eildon Hall, had 
together on the effect which would be produced on the 
view from their respective houses, of the planting going on 
upon the lands of each. The reciprocity of feeling was 
such that the various proprietors acted more like brothers 
in this matter, than like the jealous and exclusive creatures 
which landowners, as such, so often are. 

Kext to his interest in the management and growth 
of his own little estate was Scott's interest in the manage- 
ment and growth of the Duke of Buccleuch's. To the 
Duke he looked up as the head of his clan, with some- 
thing almost more than a feudal attachment, greatly 
enhanced of course by the personal friendship which 
he had formed for him in early life as the Earl of 
Dalkeith. This mixture of feudal and personal feeling 
towards the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch continued 
during their lives. Scott was away on a yachting tour 
to the Shetlands and Orkneys in July and August, 1814, 
and it was during this absence that the Duchess of 
Buccleuch died. Scott, who was in no anxiety about 
her, employed himself in writing an amusing descriptive 
epistle to the Duke in rough verse, chronicling his 
voyage, and containing expressions of the profoundest 
reverence for the goodness and charity of the Duchess, 
a letter which did not reach its destination till after the 
Duchess's death. Scott himself heard of her death by 
chance when they landed for a few hours on the coast of 
Ireland; he was quite overpowered by the news, and went 
to bed only to drop into short nightmare sleeps, and to 
wake with the dim memory of some heavy weight at his 
heart. The Duke himself died five years later, leaving 


a son only thirteen years of age (the present Duke), over 
whose interests, both as regarded his education and his 
estates, Scott watched as jealously as if they had been 
those of his own son. Many were the anxious letters he 
wrote to Lord Montague as to his " young chief's " affairs, 
as he called them, and great his pride in watching the 
promise of his youth, l^othing can be clearer than that 
to Scott the feudal principle was something far beyond a 
name ; that he had at least as much pride in his devotion 
to his chief, as he had in founding a house which he 
believed would increase the influence — both territorial 
and personal — of the clan of Scotts. The unaffected 
reverence which he felt for the Duke, though mingled 
with warm personal affection, showed that Scott's feudal 
feeling had something real and substantial in it, which 
did not vanish even when it came into close contact with 
strong personal feelings. This reverence is curiously 
marked in his letters. He speaks of " the distinction of 
rank " being ignored by both sides, as of something quite 
exceptional, but it was never really ignored by him, for 
though he continued to write to the Duke as an intimate 
friend, it was with a mingling of awe, very different indeed 
from that which he ever adopted to Ellis or Erskine. It 
is necessary to remember this, not only in estimating the 
strength of the feeling which made him so anxious to 
become himself the founder of a house within a house, — 
of a new branch of the clan of Scotts, — but in estimating 
the loyalty which Scott always displayed to one of the 
least respectable of English sovereigns, George lY., — a 
matter of which I must now say a few words, not only 
because it led to Scott's receiving the baronetcy, but 
because it forms to my mind the most grotesque of all 
the threads in the lot of this strong and proud man. 

13'J, SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 



The first relations of Scott with the Court were, oddly 
enough, formed with the Princess, not with the Prince of 
Wales. In 1806 Scott dined with the Princess of Wales at 
Blackheath, and spoke of his invitation as a great honour. 
He wrote a tribute to her father, the Duke of Brunswick, 
in the introduction to one of the cantos of Marmion, and 
received from the Princess a silver vase in acknowledgment 
of this passage in the poem. Scott's relations with the 
Prince Regent seem to have begun in an offer to Scott of 
the Laureateship in the summer of 1813, an offer which 
Scott would have found it very difficult to accept, so 
strongly did his pride revolt at the idea of having to 
commemorate in verse, as an official duty, all conspicuous 
incidents affecting the throne. But he was at the time 
of the offer in the thick of his first difficulties on account 
of Messrs. John Ballantyne and Co., and it was only the 
Duke of Buccleuch's guarantee of 4000?.— a guarantee sub- 
sequently cancelled by Scott's paying the sum for which it 
was a security — that enabled him at this time to decline 
what, after Southey had accepted it, he compared in a 
letter to Southey to the herring for which the poor Scotch 
clergyman gave thanks in a grace wherein he described 
it as " even this, the very least of Providence's mercies." 

xiii.] SCOTT AND GEORGE IV. 135 

In March, 1815, Scott being then in London, the Princo 
Regent asked him to dinner, addressed him uniformly as 
Walter, and struck up a friend?ihip with him which seems 
to have lasted their lives, and which certainly did much 
more honour to George than to Sir Walter Scott. It is 
impossible not to think rather better of George IV. for 
thus valuing, and doing his best in every way to show his 
value for, Scott. It is equally impossible not to think 
rather worse of Scott for thus valuing, and in every way 
doing his best to express his value for, this very worthless, 
though by no means incapable king. The consequences 
were soon seen in the indignation with which Scott began 
to speak of the Princess of Wales's sins. In 1806, in the 
squib he wrote on Lord Melville's acquittal, when im- 
peached for corruption by the Liberal Government, he 
had written thus of the Princess Caroline : — 

** Our King, too — our Princess, — I dare not say more, sir, — 
May Providence watch them with mercy and might ! 
While there's one Scottish hand that can wag a claymore, sir, 
They shall ne'er want a friend to stand up for their right. 
Be damn'd he that dare not — 
For my part Pll spare not 
To beauty afflicted a tribute to give ; 
Fill it up steadily. 
Drink it off readily, 
Here's to the Princess, and long may she live.** 

But whoever " stood up " for the Princess's right, certainly 
Scott did not do so after his intimacy with the Prince 
Regent began. He mentioned her only with severity, 
and in one letter at least, written to his brother, with 
something much coarser than severity;^ but the king's 
similar vices did not at all alienate him from what at 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, vi. 229-30. 

136 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

.least had all the appearance of a deep personal devotion to 
his sovereign. The first baronet whom George lY. made 
on succeeding to the throne, after his long Eegency, was 
Scott, who not only accepted the honour gratefully, but 
dwelt with extreme pride on the fact that it was offered to 
him by the king himself, and was in no way due to the 
prompting of any minister's advice. He wrote to Joanna 
Baillie on hearing of the Regent's intention — for the offer 
was made by the Eegent at the end of 1818, though it 
was not actually conferred till after George's accession, 
namely, on the 30th March, 1820,— "The Duke of 
Buccleuch and Scott of Harden, who, as the heads of 
my clan and the sources of my gentry, are good judges 
of what I ought to do, have both given me their earnest 
opinion to accept of an honour directly derived from the 
source of honour, and neither begged nor bought, as is 
the usual fashion. Several of my ancestors bore the title 
in the seventeenth century, and, were it of consequence, 
I have no reason to be ashamed of the decent and respect- 
able persons who connect me with that period when they 
carried into the field, like Madoc, 

" The Crescent at whose gleam the Cambrian oft, 
Cursing his perilous tenure, wound his horn,** 

SO that, as a gentleman, I may stand on as good a footing 
as other new creations." ^ Why the honour was any 
greater for coming from such a king as George, than it 
would have been if it had been suggested by Lord Sid- 
mouth, or even Lord Liverpool, — or half as great as if 
Mr. Canning had proposed it, it is not easy to conceive. 
George was a fair judge of literary merit, but not one to 

• Lockhart's Life of Scott, vi. 13, 14. 


be compared for a moment with that great orator and wit ; 
and as to his being the fountain of honour, there was so 
much dishonour of which the king was certainly the 
fountain too, that I do not think it was very easy for two 
fountains both springing from such a person to have flowed 
quite unmingled. George justly prided himself on Sir 
A¥alter Scott's having been the first creation of his reign, 
and I think the event showed that the poet was the foun- 
tain of much more honour for the king, than the king was 
for the poet. 

When George came to Edinburgh in 1822, it was Sir 
Walter who acted virtually as the master of the cere- 
monies, and to whom it was chiefly due that the visit was 
so successful. It was then that George clad his substantial 
person for the first time in the Highland costume — to wit, 
in the Steuart Tartans— and was so much annoyed to find 
himself outvied by a wealthy alderman. Sir William 
Curtis, who had gone and done likewise, and, in his equally 
grand Steuart Tartans, seemed a kind of parody of 
the king. The day on which the king arrived, Tuesday, 
14th of August, 1822, was also the da^ on which Scott's 
most intimate friend, William Erskine, then Lord Kin- 
nedder, died. Yet Scott went on board the royal yacht, 
was most graciously received by George, had his health 
drunk by the king in a bottle of Highland whiskey, and 
with a proper show of devoted loyalty entreated to be 
allowed to retain the glass out of which his Majesty had 
just drunk his health. The request was graciously acceded 
to, but let it be pleaded on Scott's behalf, that on reaching 
home and finding there his friend Crabbe the poet, he sat 
down on the royal gift, and crushed it to atoms. One 
would hope that he was really thinking more even of 
Crabbe, and much more of Erskine, than of the royal 

138 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

favour for which he had appeared, and doubtless had 
really believed himself, so grateful. Sir Walter retained 
his regard for the king, such as it was, to the last, and even 
persuaded himself that George's death would be a great 
political calamity for the nation. And really I cannot help 
thinking that Scott believed more in the king, than he did 
in his friend George Canning. Assuredly, greatly as he 
admired Canning, he condemned him more and more as 
Canning grew more liberal, and sometimes speaks of his 
veerings in that direction with positive asperity. George, 
on the other hand, who believed more in number one than 
in any other number, however large, became much more 
conservative after he became Eegent than he was before, 
and as he grew more conservative Scott grew more con- 
servative likewise, till he came to think this particular 
king almost a pillar of the Constitution. I suppose we 
ought to explain this little bit of fetish-worship in Scott 
much as we shDuld the quaint practical adhesion to duelling 
which he gave as an old man, who had had all his life 
much more to do with the pen than the sword — that is, as 
an evidence of the tendency of an improved type to recur 
to that of the old wild stock on which it had been grafted. 
But certainly no feudal devotion of his ancestors to their 
chief was ever less justified by moral qualities than Scott's 
loyal devotion to the fountain of honour as embodied in 
" our fat friend." The whole relation to George was a 
grotesque thread in Scott's life ; and I cannot quite forgive 
him for the utterly conventional severity with which he 
threw over his first patron, the Queen, for sins which 
were certainly not grosser, if they were not much less 
gross, than those of his second patron, the husband who 
had set her the example w^hich she faithfully, though at a 
distance, followed. 




Scott usually professed great ignorance of politics, and did 
what he could to hold aloof from a world in which his 
feelings were very easily heated, while his knowledge was 
apt to be very imperfect. But now and again, and notably 
towards the close of his life, he got himself mixed up in 
politics, and I need hardly say that it was always on the 
Tory, and generally on the red-hot Tory, side. His first 
hasty intervention in politics was the song I have just 
referred to on Lord Melville's acquittal, during the short 
"Whig administration of 1806. In fact Scott's comparative 
abstinence from politics was due, I believe, chiefly to the 
fact that during almost the whole of his literary life, 
Tories and not Whigs were in power. No sooner was any 
reform proposed, any abuse threatened, than Scott's eager 
Conservative spirit flashed up. Proposals were made in 
1806 for changes — and, as it was thought, reforms — in the 
Scotch Courts of Law, and Scott immediately saw something 
like national calamity in the prospect. The mild proposals 
in question were discussed at a meeting of the Faculty of 
Advocates, when Scott made a speech longer than he had 
ever before delivered, and animated by a "flow and energy 
of eloquence " for which those who were accustomed to 
hear his debating speeches were quite unprepared. He 

140 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

walked home between two of the reformers, Mr. Jeffrey 
and another, when his companions began to compliment 
him on his eloquence, and to speak playfully of its 
subject. But Scott was in no mood for playfulness. 
" No, no," he exclaimed, " 'tis no laughing matter ; little 
by little, whatever your wishes may be, you will destroy 
and undermine, until nothing of what makes Scotland 
Scotland shall remain !" "And so saying," adds Mr. Lock- 
hart, " he turned round to conceal his agitation, but not 
until Mr. Jeffrey saw tears gushing down his cheek, — rest- 
ing his head, until he recovered himself, on the wall of the 
Mound." ^ It was the same strong feeling for old Scotch 
institutions which broke out so quaintly in the midst of his 
own worst troubles in 1826, on behalf of the Scotch bank- 
ing-system, when he so eloquently defended, in the letters 
of Malachi Malagrowtlier, what would now be called 
Home-Rule for Scotland, and indeed really defeated the 
attempt of his friends the Tories, who were the innovators 
this time, to encroach on those sacred institutions — the 
Scotch one-pound note, and the private-note circulation of 
the Scotch banks. But when I speak of Scott as a Home- 
Ruler, I should add that had not Scotland been for gene- 
rations governed to a great extent, and, as he thought 
successfully, by Home-Rule, he was far too good a Conser- 
vative to have apologized for it at all. The basis of his 
Conservatism was always the danger of undermining a 
system which had answered so well. In the concluding 
passages of the letters to which I have just referred, he 
' contrasts " Theory, a scroll in her hand, full of deep and 
mysterious combinations of figures, the least failure in 
any one of which may alter the result entirely," with 

* Lockhart's Life of Scott, ii. 328. 


" a practical system successful for upwards of a century." 
His vehement and unquailing opposition to Reform in 
almost the very last year of his life, when he had already 
suffered more than one stroke of paralysis, was grounded 
on precisely the same argument. At Jedburgh, on the 
21st March, 1831, he appeared in the midst of an angry 
population (who hooted and jeered at him till he turned 
round fiercely upon them with the defiance, "I regard your 
gabble no more than the geese on the green,") to urge the 
very same protest. '* We in this district," he said, " are 
proud, and with reason, that the first chain-bridge was the 
work of a Scotchman. . It still hangs where he erected 
it a pretty long time ago. The French heard of our 
invention, and determined to introduce it, but with 
great improvements and embellishments. A friend of 
my own saw the thing tried. It was on the Seine at 
Marly. The French chain-bridge looked lighter and 
airier than the prototype. Every Englishman present 
was disposed to confess that we had been beaten at our 
own trade. But by-and-by the gates were opened, and 
the multitude were to pass over. It began to swing 
rather formidably beneath the pressure of the good com- 
pany ; and by the time the architect, who led the proces- 
sion in great pomp and glory, reached the middle, the 
whole gave way, and he — worthy, patriotic artist — was 
the first that got a ducking. They had forgot the middle 
bolt, — or rather this ingenious person had conceived that 
to be a clumsy-looking feature, which might safely be 
dispensed with, while he put some invisible gimcrack of 
his own to supply its place." ^ It is strange that Sir 
Walter did not see that this kind of criticism, so far as it 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, x. 47. 

142 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [crap. 

applied at all to such an experiment as the Eeform Bill, 
was even more in point as a rebuke to the rashness of the 
Scotch reformer who hung the first successful chain-bridge, 
than to the rashness of the French reformer of reform who 
devised an unsuccessful variation on it. The audacity of 
the first experiment was much the greater, though the com- 
petence of the person who made it was the greater also. 
And as a matter of fact, the political structure against the 
supposed insecurity of which Sir Walter was protesting, 
with all the courage of that dauntless though dying nature, 
was made by one who understood his Avork at least as well 
as the Scotch architect. The tramp of the many multi- 
tudes who have passed over it has never yet made it to 
" swing dangerously," and Lord Eussell in the fulness of 
his age was but yestei'day rejoicing in what he had achieved, 
and even in what those have achieved who have altered 
his work in the same spirit in which he designed it. 

But though Sir Walter persuaded himself that his 
Conservatism was all founded in legitimate distrust of 
reckless change, there is evidence, I think, that at times 
at least it was due to elements less noble. The least 
creditable incident in the story of his political life — which 
Mr. Lockhart, with his usual candour, did not conceal — 
was the bitterness with which he resented a most natural 
and reasonable Parliamentary opposition to an appoint- 
ment which he had secured for his favourite brother, Tom. 
In 1810 Scott appointed his brother Tom, who had failed 
as a Writer to the Signet, to a place vacant under himself 
as Clerk of Session. He had not given him the best place 
vacant, because he thought it his duty to appoint an 
official who had grown grey in the service, but he gave 
Tom Scott this man's place, which was worth about 2501. 
a year. In the meantime Tom Scott's affairs did not 


render it convenient for him to be come-at-able, and ho 
absented himself, while they were being settled, in the 
Isle of Man. Further, the Commission on the Scotch 
system of judicature almost immediately reported that his 
office was one of supererogation, and ought to be abolished ; 
but, to soften the blow, they proposed to allow him a 
pension of 130Z. per annum. This proposal was dis- 
cussed with some natural jealousy in the House of Lords. 
Lord Lauderdale thought that when Tom Scott was 
appointed, it must have been pretty evident that the 
Commission would propose to abolish his office, and that 
the appointment therefore should not have been made. 
" Mr. Thomas Scott," he said, " would have 130Z. for life 
as an indemnity for an office the duties of which he never 
had performed, while those clerks who had laboured for 
twenty years had no adequate remuneration." Lord Hol- 
land sujDported this very reasonable and moderate view of 
the case ; but of course the Ministry carried their way, 
and Tom Scott got his unearned pension. N'evertheless, 
Scott was furious with Lord Holland. Writing soon after 
to the happy recipient of this little pension, he says, 
" Lord Holland has been in Edinburgh, and we met acci- 
dentally at a public party. He made up to me, but I 
remembered his part in your affair, and cut him with as 
little remorse as an old pen." Mr. Lockhart says, on 
Lord Jeffrey's authority, that the scene was a very painful 
one. Lord Jeffrey himself declared that it was the only 
rudeness of which he ever saw Scott guilty in the course 
of a life-long familiarity. And it is pleasant to know that 
he renewed his cordiality with Lord Holland in later years, 
though there is no evidence that he ever admitted that he 
had been in the wrong. But the incident shows how 
very doubtful Sir Walter ought to have felt as to the purity 

144 STR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

of his Conservatism. It is quite certain that the 
proposal to abolish Tom Scott's office without compen- 
sation was not a reckless experiment of a fundamental 
kind. It was a mere attempt at diminishing the heavy- 
burdens laid on the people for the advantage of a small 
portion of the middle class, and yet Scott resented it with 
as much display of selfish passion — considering his 
genuine nobility of breeding — as that with which the 
rude working men of Jedburgh afterwards resented his 
gallant protest against the Eeform Bill, and, later again, 
saluted the dauntless old man with the dastardly cry of 
" Burk Sir Walter ! " Judged truly, I think Sir Walter's 
conduct in cutting Lord Holland " with as little remorse 
as an old pen," for simply doing his duty in the House of 
Lords, was quite as ignoble in him as the bullying and 
insolence of the democratic party in 1831, when the dying 
lion made his last dash at what he regarded as the foes of 
the Constitution. Doubtless he held that the mob, or, 
as we more decorously say, the residuum, were in some 
sense the enemies of true freedom. " I cannot read in 
history," he writes once to Mr. Laidlaw, " of any free 
State which has been brought to slavery till the rascal 
and uninstructed populace had had their short hour of 
anarchical government, which naturally leads to the stern 
repose of military despotism." But he does not seem 
ever to have perceived that educated men identify them- 
selves with " the rascal and uninstructed populace," when- 
ever they indulge on behalf of the selfish interests 
of their own class, passions such as he had indulged in 
fighting for his brother's pension. It is not the want of 
instruction, it is the rascaldom, i. e. the violent esprit da 
corps of a selfish class, which " naturally leads " to violent 
remedies. Such rascaldom exists in all classes, and not 


least in the class of the cultivated and refined. Generous 
and magnanimous as Scott was, he was evidently by no 
means free from the germs of it. 

One more illustration of Scott's political Conservatism, 
and I may leave his political life, which was not indeed his 
strong side, though, as with all sides of Scott's nature, it 
had an energy and spirit all his own. On the subject of 
Catholic Emancipation he took a peculiar view. As he 
justly said, he hated bigotry, and would have left the 
Catholics quite alone, but for the great claims of their 
creed to interfere with political life. And even so, when 
the penal laws were once abolished, he would have 
abolished also the representative disabilities, as quite 
useless, as well as very irritating when the iron system of 
effective repression had ceased. But he disapproved of the 
abolition of the political parts of the penal laws. He 
thought they would have stamped out Eoman Catholicism ; 
and whether that were just or unjust, he thought it would 
have been a great national service. "As for Catholic 
Emancipation," he wrote to Southey in 1807, " I am not, 
God knows, a bigot in religious matters, nor a friend to 
persecution ; but if a particular set of religionists are ipso 
facto connected with foreign politics, and placed under 
the spiritual direction of a class of priests, whose unrivalled 
dexterity and activity are increased by the rules which 
detach them from the rest of the world — I humbly think 
that we may be excused from entrusting to them those 
places in the State where the influence of such a clergy, 
who act under the direction of a passive tool of our worst 
foe, is likely to be attended with the most fatal conse- 
quences. If a gentleman chooses to walk about with a 
couple of pounds of gunpowder in his pocket, if I give 
him the shelter of my roof, I may at least be permitted 


146 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

to exclude him from the seat next to the fire." * And in 
relation to the year 1825, when Scott visited Ireland, Mr. 
Lockhart writes, " He on all occasions expressed manfully 
his belief that the best thing for Ireland would have been 
never to relax the stvictlj political enactments of the penal 
laws, however harsh these might appear. Had they been 
kept in vigour for another half-century, it was his convic- 
tion that Popery would have been all but extinguished in 
Ireland. But he thought that after admitting Eomanists 
to the elective franchise, it was a vain notion that they 
could be permanently or advantageously deterred from 
using that franchise in favour of those of their own per- 

In his diary in 1829 he puts the same view still more 
strongly: — " I cannot get myself to feel at all anxious 
about the Catholic question. I cannot see the use of 
fighting about the platter, when you have let them snatch 
the meat off it. I hold Popery to be such a mean and 
degrading superstition, that I am not sure I could have 
found myself liberal enough for voting the repeal of the 
penal laws as they existed before 1780. They must and 
would, in course of time, have smothered Popery ; and I 
confess that I should have seen the old lady of Babylon's 
mouth stopped with pleasure. But now that you have 
taken the plaster off her mouth, and given her free respi- 
ration, I cannot see the sense of keeping up the irritation 
about the claim to sit in Parliament. Unopposed, the 
Catholic superstition may sink into dust, with all its 
absurd ritual and solemnities. Still it is an awful risk. 
The world is in fact as silly as ever, and a good compe- 
tence of nonsense will always find believers." ^ That is 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, iii. 34. 

2 Ibid., ix. 305. 


the view of a strorg and rather unscrupulous politician 
— a moss-trooper in politics — which Scott certainly 
was. He was thinking evidently very little of justice, 
almost entirely of the most effective means of keeping 
the Kingdom, the Kingdom which he loved. Had he 
understood — what none of the politicians of that day 
understood — the strength of the Church of Eome as the 
only consistent exponent of the principle of Authority 
in religion, I believe his opposition to Catholic eman- 
cipation would have been as bitter as his opposition 
to Parliamentary reform. But he took for granted that 
while only " silly " persons believed in Eome, and only 
"infidels" rejected an authoritative creed altogether, it 
was quite easy by the exercise of common sense, to find 
the true compromise between reason and religious humility. 
Had Scott lived through the religious controversies of our 
own days, it seems not unlikely that with his vivid imagi- 
nation, his warm Conservatism, and his rather inadequate 
critical powers, he might himself have become a Eoman 

L 2 

^48 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 



Wjth the year 1825 came a financial crisis, and Con- 
stable began to tremble for his solvency. From the date 
of his baronetcy Sir Walter had launched out into a con- 
siderable increase of expenditure. He got plans on a 
rather large scale in 1821 for the increase of Abbotsford, 
which were all carried out. To meet his expenses in this 
and other ways he received Constable's bills for " four 
unnamed works of fiction," of which he had not written 
a line, but which came to exist in time, and were called 
Peveril of tl^e Peak, Quentin Durioard, St. Ronan^s Well, 
and Redgauntlet. Again, in the very year before the crash, 
1825, he married his eldest son, the heir to the title, to 
a young lady who was herself an heiress. Miss Jobsofi 
of Lochore, when Abbotsford and its estates were 
settled, with the reserve of 10,000/., which Sir Walter 
took power to charge on the property for purposes of 
business. Immediately afterwards he purchased a cap- 
taincy in the King's Hussars for his son, which cost him 
3500Z. Nor were the obligations he incurred on his own 
account, or that of his family, the only ones by which he 
was burdened. He was always incurring expenses, often 
heavy expenses, for other people. Thus, when Mr. Terry, 
the actor, became joint lessee and manager of the Adclphi 


Theatre, London, Scott became his surety for 1250 A, while 
James Ballantyne became his surety for 5001. more, and 
both these sums had to be paid by Sir Walter after 
Terry's failure in 1828. Such obligations as these, how- 
ever, would have been nothing when compared with Sir 
Walter's means, had all his bills on Constable been duly 
honoured, and had not the printing firm of Ballantyne 
and Co. been so deeply involved with Constable's house 
that it necessarily became insolvent when he stopped. 
Taken altogether, I believe that Sir Walter earned during 
his own lifetime at least 140,000Z. by his literary work 
alone, probably more ; while even on his land and building 
combined he did not apparently spend more than half 
that sum. Then he had a certain income, about lOOOZ. a 
year, from his own and Lady Scott's private property, as 
well as 1300Z. a year as Clerk of Session, and 300?. more 
as Sheriff of Selkirk. Thus even his loss of the price 
of several novels by Constable's failure would not 
seriously have compromised Scott's position, but for his 
share in the printing-house which fell with Constable, 
and the obligations of which amounted to 117,000/. 

As Scott had always forestalled his income, — spend- 
ing the purchase-money of his poems and novels before 
they were written, — such a failure as this, at the age 
of fifty-five, when all the freshness of his youth was 
gone out of him, when he saw his son's prospects blighted 
as well as his own, and knew perfectly that James 
Ballantyne, unassisted by him, could never hope to pay 
any fraction of the debt worth mentioning, would have 
been paralysing, had he not been a man of iron nerve, 
and of a pride and courage hardly ever equalled. Domes- 
tic calamity, too, was not far off. For two years he had 
been watching the failure of his wife's health with in- 

150 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

creasing anxiety, and as calamities seldom come single, 
her illness took a most serious form at the very time when 
the blow fell, and she died within four months of the 
failure. Nay, Scott was himself unwell at the critical 
moment, and was taking sedatives which discomposed his 
brain. Twelve days before the final failure, — which was 
announced to him on the 17th January, 1826, — he enters 
in his diary, " Much alarmed. I had walked till twelve 
with Skene and Eussell, and then sat down to my work. 
To my horror and surprise I could neither write nor spell, 
but put down one word for another, and wrote nonsense. 
I was much overpowered at the same time and could not 
conceive the reason. I fell asleep, however, in my chair, 
and slept for two hours. On my waking my head was 
clearer, and I began to recollect that last night I had 
taken the anodyne left for the purpose by Clarkson, and 
being disturbed in the course of the night, I had not 
slept it off.'' In fact the hyoscyamus had, combined 
with his anxieties, given him a slight attack of what 
is now called aphasia, that brain disease the most 
striking symptom of which is that one word is mis- 
taken for another. And this was Scott's preparation 
for his failure, and the bold resolve which followed 
it, to work for his creditors as he had worked for 
himself, and to payoff, if possible, the whole 117,O00Z. 
by his own literary exertions. 

There is nothing in its way in the whole of English 
biography more impressive than the stoical extracts from 
Scott's diary which note the descent of this blow. Here 
is the anticipation of the previous day : " Edinburgh, 
January 16th. — Came through cold roads to as cold news. 
Hurst and Eobinson have suffered a biU to come back upon 
Constable, which, I suppose, infers the ruin of both houses. 


We shall soon see. Dined with, the Skenes." And here 
is the record itself: "January 17th. — James Ballantyne 
this morning, good honest fellow, with a visage as black 
as the crook. He hopes no salvation ; has, indeed, taken 
measures to stop. It is hard, after having fought such a 
battle. I have apologized for not attending the Eoyal 
Society Club, who have a gaudeamus on this day, and 
seemed to count much on my being the presses. My old 
acquaintance Miss Elizabeth Clerk, sister of Willie, died 
suddenly. I cannot choose but wish it had been Sir 
W. S., and yet the feeling is unmanly. I have A.nne, 
my wife, and Charles to look after. I felt rather sneak- 
ing as I came home from the Parliament-house — felt as if 
I were liable monstrari digito in no very pleasant way. 
But this must be borne cum cceteris ; and, thank God, 
however uncomfortable, I do not feel despondent."^ On 
the following day, the 18th January, the day after the 
blow, he records a bad night, a wish that the next two 
days were over, but that "the worst is over," and on 
the same day he set about making notes for the magnum 
opus, as he called it — the complete edition of all the 
novels, with a new introduction and notes. On the 19 th 
January, two days after the failure, he calmly resumed the 
composition of Woodstock — the novel on which he was 
then engaged — and completed, he says, "about twenty 
printed pages of it ;" to which he adds that he had "a 
painful scene after dinner and another after supper, 
endeavouring to convince these poor creatures " [his wife 
and daughter] " that they must not look for miracles, but 
consider the misfortune as certain, and only to be lessened 
by patience and labour." On the 21st January, after a, 

Lockhart's Life of Scott, viii. 197. 

152 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

number of business details, he quotes from Job, " ITakecl 
we entered the world and naked we leave it ; blessed be 
the name of the Lord." On the 22nd he says, "I feel 
neither dishonoured nor broken down by the bad, now 
truly bad, news I have received. I have walked my last 
in the domains I have planted — sat the last time in the 
halls I have built. But death would have taken them 
from me, if misfortune had spared them. My poor people 
whom I loved so well ! There is just another die to turn 
up against me in this run of ill-luck, i. e. if I should break 
my magic wand in the fall from this elephant, and lose 
my popularity with my fortune. Then Woodstock and 
Boney" [his life of JSTapoleon] "may both go to the 
paper-maker, and I may take to smoking cigars and 
drinking grog, or turn devotee and intoxicate the brain 
another way."^ He adds that when he sets to work 
doggedly, he is exactly the same man he ever was, " neither 
low-spirited nor distrait" nay, that adversity is to him 
" a tonic and bracer." 

The heaviest blow was, I think, the blow to his pride. 
Very early he begins to note painfully the different way in 
which different friends greet him, to remark that some 
smile as if to say, " think nothing about it, my lad, it is 
quite out of our thoughts ;" that others adopt an affected 
gravity, " such as one sees and despises at a funeral," and 
the best-bred "just shook hands and went on." He writes 
to Mr. Morritt with a proud indifference, clearly to some 
extent simulated : — " My womenkind will be the greater 
sufferers, yet even they look cheerily forward ; and, for 
myself, the blowing off of my hat on a stormy day has 
given me more uneasiness." ^ To Lady Davy he writes 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, viii. 203-4. 

2 Ibid., viii. 235. 

XV.] SCOTT I;N adversity. 153 

truly enough : — " I Leg my humblest compliments to Sir 
Humphrey, and tell him, 111 Luck, that direful chemist, 
never put into his crucible a more indissoluble piece of 
stuff than your affectionate cousin and sincere well- 
wisher, Walter Scott." * When his Letters of Malachi 
Malagrowtlier came out he writes : — " I am glad of this 
bruilzie, as far as I am concerned ; people will not dare 
talk of me as an object of pity — no more ' poor-manning.' 
Who asks how many punds Scots the old champion had 
in his pocket when 

' He set a bugle to his mouth, 
And blew so loud and shrill. 
The trees in greenwood shook thereat, 
Sae loud rang every hill.* 

This sounds conceited enough, yet is not far from truth."* 
His dread of pity is just the same when his wife dies : — 
" Will it be better," he writes, " when left to my own 
feelings, I see the whole world pipe and dance around 
me '? I think it will. Their sympathy intrudes on my 
present affliction." Again, on returning for the first time 
from Edinburgh to Abbotsford after Lady Scott's funeral: — 
" I again took possession of the family bedroom and my 
widowed couch. This was a sore trial, but it was neces- 
sary not to blink such a resolution. Indeed I do not like 
to have it thought that there is any way in which I can 
be beaten." And again: — "I have a secret pride — I 
fancy it will be so most truly termed — which impels me to 
mix with my distresses strange snatches of mirth, ' which 
have no mirth in them.' "' 

' Lockhart's Life af Scott , viii. 238. 

3 Yiii. 277. 3 Yxa., 347, 371, 38L 

15 i SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

But though pride was part of Scott's strength, pride 
alone never enabled any man to struggle so vigorously and 
so unremittingly as he did to meet the obligations he had 
incurred. When he was in Ireland in the previous year, 
a poor woman who had offered to sell him gooseberries, 
but whose offer had not been accepted, remarked, on 
seeing his daughter give some pence to a beggar, that they 
might as well give her an alms too, as she was *' an old 
struggler." Sir Walter was struck with the expression, 
and said that it deserved to become classical, as a name 
for those who take arms against a sea of troubles, in- 
stead of yielding to the waves. It was certainly a name 
the full meaning of which he himself deserved. His 
house in Edinburgh was sold, and he had to go into 
a certain Mrs. Brown's lodgings, when he was dis- 
charging his duties as Clerk of Session. His wife was 
dead. His estate was conveyed to trustees for the benefit 
of his creditors tiU such time as he should pay off 
Ballantyne and Go's, debt, w^hich of course in his lifetime 
he never did. Yet between January, 1826, and January, 
1828, he earned for his creditors very nearly 40,000Z. 
Woodstock sold for 8228Z., "a matchless sale," as Sir 
Walter remarked, " for less than three months' work." 
The first two editions of The Life of Napoleon Bona- 
parte, on which Mr. Lockhart says that Scott had spent 
the unremitting labour of about two years — labour in- 
volving a far greater strain on eyes and brain than his 
imaginative work ever caused him — sold for 18,000/. 
Had Sir Walter's health lasted, he would have redeemed 
his obhgations on behalf of Ballantyne and Co. within 
eight or nine years at most from the time of his failure. 
But what is more remarkable still, is that after his health 
failed he struggled on with little more than half a brain. 


but a whole will, to work while it was yet day, though 
the evening was dropping fast. Count Robert of Paris 
and Castle Dangerous were really the compositions of a 
paralytic patient. 

It was in September, 1830, that the first of these 
tales was begun. As early as the 15th February of that 
year he had had his first true paralytic seizure. He had 
been discharging his duties as clerk of session as usual, 
and received in the afternoon a visit from a lady friend of 
his. Miss Young, who was submitting to him some manu- 
script memoirs of her father, when the stroke came. It 
was but slight. He struggled against it with his usual 
iron power of will, and actually managed to stagger out of 
the room where the lady was sitting with him, into the 
drawing-room where his daughter was, but there he fell 
his full length on the floor. He was cupped, and fully 
recovered his speech during the course of the day, but 
Mr. Lockhart thinks that never, after this attack, did his 
style recover its full lucidity and terseness. A cloudiness 
in words and a cloudiness of arrangement began to be 
visible. In the course of the year he retired from his 
duties of clerk of session, and his publishers hoped that, 
by engaging him on the new and complete edition of his 
works, they might detach him from the attempt at imagi- 
native creation for which he was now so much less fit. 
But Sir Walter's will survived his judgment. When, 
in the previous year, Ballantyne had been disabled from 
attending to business by his wife's illness (which ended in 
her death), Scott had written in his diary, "It is his 
(BaUantyne's) nature to indulge apprehensions of the 
worst which incapacitate him for labour. I cannot help 
regarding this amiable weakness of the mind with some- 
thing too nearly allied to contempt," and assuredly he 

156 alR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

was guilty of no such, weakness himself. I^ot only did 
he row much harder against the stream of fortune than he 
had ever rowed with it, but, what required still more 
resolution, he fought on against the growing conviction 
that his imagination would not kindle, as it used to do, 
to its old heat. 

When he dictated to Laidlaw, — for at this time he could 
hardly write himself for rheumatism in the hand, — he 
would frequently pause and look round him, like a man 
" mocked with shadows." Then he bestirred himself with 
a great effort, rallied his force, and the style again flowed 
clear and bright, but not for long. The clouds would 
gather again, and the mental blank recur. This soon 
became visible to his publishers, who wrote discouragingly 
of the new novel — to Scott's own great distress and irrita- 
tion. The oddest feature in the matter was that his 
letters to them were full of the old terseness, and force, 
and caustic trrns. On business he was as clear and keen 
as in his best days. It was only at his highest task, the 
task of creative work, that his cunning began to fail him. 
Here, for instance, are a few sentences written to Cadell, 
his publisher, touching this very point — the discourage- 
ment which James Ballantyne had been pouring on the 
new novel. Ballantyne, he says, finds fault with the 
subject, when what he really should have found fault with 
was the failing power of the author : — " James is, with 
many other kindly critics, perhaps in the predicament of 
an honest drunkard, when crop-sick the next morning, 
who does not ascribe the malady to the wine he has 
drunk, but to having tasted some particular dish at dinner 

which disagreed with his stomach I have lost, it 

is plain, the power of interesting the country, and ought, 
injustice to all parties, to retire while I have some credit. 


But this is an important step, and I will not be obstinate 

about it if it be necessary Frankly, I cannot think 

of flinging aside the half-finished volume, as if it were a 

corked bottle of wine I may, perhaps, take a trip 

to the Continent for a year or two, if I find Othello's 
occupation gone, or rather Othello's rej)utation.^'^ And 
again, in a very able letter written on the 12th of De- 
cember, 1830, to Cadell, he takes a view of the situation 
with as much calmness and imperturbability as if he were 
an outside spectator. " There were many circumstances in 
the matter which you and J. B. (James Ballantyne) could 
not be aware of, and which, if you were aware of, might 
have influenced your judgment, which had, and yet have, 
a most powerful effect upon mine. The deaths of both 
my father and mother have been preceded by a paralytic 
shock. My father survived it for nearly two years — a 
melancholy respite, and not to be desired. I was 
alarmed with Miss Young's morning visit, when, as you 
know, I lost my speech. The medical people said it 
was from the stomach, which might be, but while 
there is a doubt upon a point so alarming, you will not 
wonder that the subject, or to use Hare's lingo, the shot, 
should be a little anxious." He relates how he had 
followed all the strict medical regime prescribed to him 
with scrupulous regularity, and then begun his work 
again with as much attention as he could. " And having 
taken pains with my story, I find it is not relished, 
nor indeed tolerated, by those who have no interest in 
condemning it, but a strong interest in putting even a 
face " C? force) '' upon their consciences. Was not this, 
in the circumstances, a damper to an invalid already 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, x. 11, 12. 

158 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

afraid that the sharp edge might be taken off his in- 
tellect, though he was not himself sensible of that?" In 
fact, no more masterly discussion of the question whether 
his mind were failing or not, and what he ought to do in 
the interval of doubt, can be conceived, than these letters 
give us. At this time the debt of Ballantyne and Co. had 
been reduced by repeated dividends — all the fruits of 
Scott's literary work — more than one half. On the 17th 
of December, 1830, the liabilities stood at 54,000Z., 
having been reduced 63,000/. within five years. And Sir 
Walter, encouraged by this great result of his labour, 
resumed the suspended novel. 

But with the beginning of 1831 came new alarms. On 
January 5th Sir Walter enters in his diary, — " Yery 
indifferent, with more awkward feelings than I can well 
bear up against. My voice sunk and my head strangely 
confused." Still he struggled on. On the 31st January 
he went alone to Edinburgh to sign his will, and stayed 
at his bookseller's (Cadell's) house in Athol Crescent. 
A great snow-storm set in which kept him in Edin- 
burgh and in Mr. Cadell's house till the 9 th February. 
One day while the snow was still falling heavily, Bal- 
lantyne reminded him that a motto was wanting for 
one of the chapters of Count Robert of Paris. He 
went to the window, looked out for a moment, and then 
wrote, — 

" The storm increases ; 'tis no sunny shower, 
Foster' d in the moist breast of March or April, 
Or such as parched summer cools his lips with. 
Heaven's windows are flung wide ; the inmost deeps 
Call, in hoarse greeting, one upon another ; 
On comes the flood, in all its foaming horrors, 
And Where's the dike shall stop it ? 

The Deluge : a Poem." 


Clearly this failing imagination of Sir Walter's was still 
a great deal more vivid than that of most men, -with 
brains as sound as it ever pleased Providence to make 
them. Eut his troubles were not yet even numbered. 
The "storm increased," and it was, as he said, "no sunny 
shower." His lame leg became so painful that he had to 
get a mechanical apparatus to relieve him of some of the 
burden of supporting it. Then, on the 21st March, he 
was hissed at Jedburgh, as I have before said, for his 
vehement opposition to Eeform. In April he had another 
stroke of paralysis which he now himself recognized as 
one. Still he struggled on at his novel. Under the date 
of May 6, 7, 8, he makes this entry in his diary : — " Here 
is a precious job. I have a formal remonstrance from those 
critical people, Eallantyne and Cadell, against the last 
volume of Count Robert, which is within a sheet of being 
finished. I suspect their opinion will be found to coincide 
with that of the public ; at least it is not very different 
from my own. The blow. is a stunning one, I suppose, 
for I scarcely feel it. It is singular, but it comes with 
as little surprise as if I had a remedy ready; yet God 
knows I am at sea in the dark, and the vessel leaky, I 
think, into the bargain. I cannot conceive that I have 
tied a knot with my tongue which my teeth cannot untie. 
We shall see. I have suffered terribly, that is the truth, 
rather in body than mind, and I often wish I could lie 
down and sleep without waking. But I will fight it out 
if I can." ^ The medical men with one accord tried to 
make him give up his novel-writing. But he smiled and 
put them by. He took np Count Robert of Paris again, 
and tried to recast it. On the 18th May he insisted on 

1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, x. 65-6. 

160 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chat. 

attending the election for Eoxburghshire, to be held at 
Jedburgh, and in spite of the unmannerly reception he 
had met with in March, no dissuasion would keep him at 
home. He was saluted in the town with groans and 
blasphemies, and Sir Walter had to escape from Jedburgh 
by a back way to avoid personal violence. The cries 
of " Burk Sir Walter," with which he was saluted on this 
occasion, haunted him throughout his illness and on his 
dying bed. At the Selkirk election it was Sir Walter's 
duty as Sheriff to preside, and his family therefore made 
no attempt to dissuade him from his attendance. There 
he was so well known and loved, that in spite of his Tory 
views, he was not insulted, and the only man who made 
any attempt to hustle the Tory electors, was seized by Sir 
Walter with his own hand, as he got out of his carriage, 
and committed to prison without resistance till the election 
day was over. 

A seton which had been ordered for his head, gave him 
some relief, and of course the first result was that he 
turned immediately to his novel-writing again, and began 
Castle Dangerous in July, 1831, — the last July but one 
which he was to see at all. He even made a little 
journey in company with Mr. Lockhart, in order to see 
the scene of the story he wished to tell, and on his return 
set to work with all his old vigour to finish his tale, 
and put the concluding touches to Count Robert of Paris. 
But his temper was no longer what it had been. He 
quarrelled with Ballantyne, partly for his depreciatory 
criticism of Count Rohert of Paris, partly for his growing 
tendency to a mystic and strait-laced sort of dissent and 
his increasing Liberalism. Even Mr. Laidlaw and Scott's 
children had much to bear. But he struggled on even to 
the end, and did not consent to try the experiment of a 


voyage and visit to Italy till his immediate work was done. 
Well might Lord Chief Baron Shepherd apply to Scott 
Cicero's description of some contemporary of his own, who 
" had borne adversity wisely, who had not been broken by 
fortune, and who, amidst the buffets of fate, had main- 
tained his dignity." There was in Sir Walter, I think, 
at least as much of the Stoic as the Christian. But 
Stoic or Christian, he was a hero of the old, indomitable 
type. Even the last fragments of his imaginative power 
were all turned to account by that unconquerable will, 
amidst the discouragement of friends, and the still more 
disheartening doubts of his own mind. Like the head- 
land stemming a rough sea, he was gradually worn away, 
but never crushed. 

162 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 



In the month of September, 1831, the disease of the 
brain which had long been in existence must have made 
a considerable step in advance. For the first time the 
illusion seemed to possess Sir Walter that he had paid 
off all the debt for which he was liable, and that he was 
once more free to give as his generosity prompted. Scott 
sent Mr. Lockhart 501. to save his grandchildren some 
slight inconvenience, and told another of his corre- 
spondents that he had " put his decayed fortune into as 
good a condition as he could desire." It was weU, there- 
fore, that he had at last consented to try the efiect of 
travel on his health, — not that he could hope to arrest 
by it such a disease as his, but that it diverted him from 
the most painful of all efforts, that of trying anew the 
spell which had at last failed him, and perceiving in the 
disappointed eyes of his old admirers that the magic of 
his imagination was a thing of the past. The last day 
of real enjoyment at Abbotsford — for when Sir Walter 
returned to it to die, it was but to catch once more the 
outlines of its walls, the rustle of its woods, and the 
gleam of its waters, through senses already darkened to 
all less familiar and less fascinating visions — was the 
22nd September, 1831. On the 21st, Wordsworth had 


come to bid his old friend adieu, and on the 22nd — the last 
day at home — they spent the morning together in a visit 
to Newark. It was a day to deepen alike in Scott and 
in Wordsworth whatever of sympathy either of them had 
with the very different genius of the other, and that it 
had this result in Wordsworth's case, we know from the 
very beautiful poem, — " Yarrow Eevisited," — and the son- 
net which the occasion also produced. And even Scott, 
who was so little of a Wordsworthian, who enjoyed 
Johnson's stately but formal verse, and Crabbe's vivid 
Dutch painting, more than he enjoyed the poetry of the 
transcendental school, must have recurred that day with 
more than usual emotion to his favourite Wordsworthian 
poem. Soon after his wife's death, he had remarked in 
his diary how finely " the effect of grief upon persons who 
like myself are highly susceptible of humour " had been 
" touched by Wordsworth in the character of the merry 
village teacher, Matthew, whom Jeffrey profanely calls 
a half-crazy, sentimental person." ^ And long before this 
time, during the brightest period of his life, Scott had 
made the old Antiquary of his novel quote the same 
poem of Wordsworth's, in a passage where the period of 
life at which he had now arrived is anticipated with 
singular pathos and force. " It is at such moments as 
these," says Mr. Oldbuck, "that we feel the changes of 
time. The same objects are before us — those inanimate 
things which we have gazed on in wayward infancy and 
impetuous youth, in anxious and scheming manhood — they 
are permanent and the same; but when we look upon 
them in cold, unfeeling old age, can we, changed in our 
temper, our pursuits, our feelings, — changed in our form, 
our limbs, and our strength, — can we be ourselves called the 

^ Lockhart's Life of Scott, ix. 63. 
M 2 

164 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

same 1 or do we not rather look back with a sort of wonder 
upon our former selves as beings separate and distinct from 
what we now are 1 The philosopher who appealed from 
Philip inflamed with wine to Philip in his hours of 
sobriety, did not claim a judge so different as if he had 
appealed from Philip in his youth to Philip in his old 
age. I cannot but be touched with the feeling so beauti- 
fully expressed in a poem which I have heard repeated: — 

* My eyes are dim witli childish tears, 

My heart is idly stirr'd, 
For the same sound is in my ears 

Which in those days I heard. 
Thus fares it still in our decay, 

And yet the wiser mind 
Mourns less for what age takes away 

Than what it leaves behind.' " * 

Sir "Walter's memory, which, in spite of the slight 
failure of brain and the mild illusions to which, on the 
subject of his own prospects, he was now liable, had as yet 
been little impaired — indeed, he could still quote whole 
pages from all his favourite authors — must have recurred 
to those favourite Wordsworthian lines of his with sin- 
gular force, as, with Wordsworth for his companion, he 
gazed on the refuge of the last Minstrel of his imagination 
for. the last time, and felt in himself how much of joy in 
the sight, age had taken away, and how much, too, of 
the habit of expecting it, it had unfortunately left behind. 
Whether Sir Walter recalled this poem of Wordsworth's on 
this occasion or not — and if he recalled it, his delight in 
giving pleasure would assuredly have led him to let Words- 
worth know that he recalled it — the mood it paints was 
unquestionably that in which his last day at Abbotsford 

* The Antiquary, chap. x. 


was passed. In the evening, referring to the journey 
which was to begin the next day, he remarked that 
Fielding and Smollett had been driven abroad by declin- 
ing health, and that they had never returned; while 
Wordsworth — willing perhaps to bring out a brighter 
feature in the present picture — regretted that the last days 
of those two great novelists had not been surrounded by 
due marks of respect. With Sir Walter, as he well knew, 
it was different. The Liberal Government that he had so 
bitterly opposed were pressing on him signs of the honour 
in which he was held, and a ship of his Majesty's navy 
had been placed at his disposal to take him to the 
Mediterranean. And Wordsworth himself added his 
own more durable token of reverence. As long as English 
poetry lives. Englishmen will know something of that 
last day of the last Minstrel at JSTewark : — 

" Grave thoughts ruled wide on that sweet day, 

Their dignity installing 
In gentle bosoms, while sere leaves 

Were on the bough or falling ; 
But breezes play'd, and sunshine gleam*d 

The forest to embolden, 
Reddened the fiery hues, and shot 

Transparence through the golden. 

** For busy thoughts the stream flow'd on 

In foamy agitation ; 
And slept in many a crystal pool 

For quiet contemplation : 
No public and no private care 

The free-born mind enthralling, 
We made a day of happy hours, 

Our happy days recalling. 

4e 4: 4: * 

** And if, as Yarrow through the woods 
And down the meadow ranging, 
Did meet us with unalter'd face, 

Though we were changed and changing ; 

166 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

If then some natural shadow spread 

Our inward prospect over, 
The soul's deep valley was not slow 

Its brightness to recover. 

** Eternal blessings on the Muse 
And her divine employment, 
The blameless Muse who trains her sons 

For hope and calm enjoyment; 
Albeit sickness lingering yet 

Has o'er their pillow brooded, 
And care waylays their steps — a sprite 

Not easily eluded. 

" Nor deem that localized Romance 

Plays false with our affections ; 
Un sanctifies our tears — made sport 

For fanciful dejections : 
Ah, no ! the visions of the past 

Sustain the heart in feeling 
Life as she is — our changeful Life 

\\rith friends and kindred dealing. 

" Bear witness ye, whose thoughts that day 

In Yarrow's groves were centred. 
Who through the silent portal arch 

Of mouldering Newark enter'd ; 
And clomb the winding stair that once 

Too timidly was mounted 
By the last Minstrel — not the last ! — 

Ere he his tale recounted." 

Thus did the meditative poetry, the day of which was 
not yet, do honour to itself in doing homage to the 
Minstrel of romantic energy and martial enterprise, who, 
with the school of poetry he loved, was passing away. 

On the 23rd September Scott left Abbotsford, spend- 
ing five days on his journey to London ; nor would he 
allow any of the old objects of interest to be passed with- 


out getting out of the carriage to see them. He did not 
leave London for Portsmouth till the 23rd October, bat 
spent the intervening time in London, where he took me- 
dical advice, and with his old shrewdness wheeled his chair 
into a dark corner during the physicians' absence from the 
room to consult, that he might read their faces clearly on 
their return without their being able to read his. They 
recognized traces of brain disease, but Sir Walter was 
relieved by their comparatively favourable opinion, for he 
admitted that he had feared insanity, and therefore had 
"feared them" On the 29th October he sailed for Malta, 
and on the 20th !N"ovember Sir Walter insisted on being 
landed on a small volcanic island which had appeared four 
months previously, and which disappeared again in a few 
days, and on clambering about its crumbling lava, in spite 
of sinking at nearly every step almost up to his knees, in 
order that he might send a description of it to his old 
friend Mr. Skene. On the 22nd November he reached 
Malta, where he looked eagerly at the antiquities of the 
place, for he still hoped to write a novel — and, indeed, 
actually wrote one at Naples, which was never published, 
called The Siege of Malta — on the subject of the Knights 
of Malta, who had interested him so much in his youth. 
From Malta Scott went to Naples, which he reached 
on the 17th December, and where he found much 
pleasure in the society of Sir William Gell, an invalid 
like himself, but not one who, like himself, struggled 
against the admission of his infirmities, and refused 
to be carried when his own legs would not safely carry 
him. Sir William Gell's dog delighted the old man ; he 
would pat it and call it "Poor boy!" and confide to 
Sir William how he had at home " two very fine favourite 
dogs, so large that I am always afraid they look too large 

168 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

and too feudal for my diminished income." In all his 
letters home he gave some injunction to Mr. Laidlaw 
about the poor people and the dogs. 

On the 22nd of March, 1832, Goethe died, an event 
which made a great impression on Scott, who had intended 
to visit Weimar on his way back, on purpose to see 
Goethe, and this much increased his eager desire to 
return home. Accordingly on the 16th of April, the last 
day on which he made any entry in his diary, he 
quitted Naples for Eome, where he stayed long enough 
only to let his daughter see something of the place, and 
hurried off homewards on the 21st of May. In Venice 
he was still strong enough to insist on scrambling down 
into the dungeons adjoining the Bridge of Sighs ; and at 
Frankfort he entered a bookseller's shop, when the man 
brought out a lithograph of Abbotsford, and Scott remark- 
ing, "I know that already, sir," left the shop unrecog- 
nized, more than ever craving for home. At Nimeguen, 
on the 9th of June, while in a steamboat on the Rhine, 
he had his most serious attack of apoplexy, but would not 
discontinue his journey, was lifted into an English steam- 
boat at Rotterdam on the 11th of June, and arrived in 
London on the 13th. There he recognized his children, 
and appeared to expect immediate death, as he gave them 
repeatedly his most solemn blessing, but for the most part 
he lay at the St. James's Hotel, in Jermyn Street, without 
any power to converse. There it was that Allan Cun- 
ningham, on walking home one night, found a group of 
working men at the corner of the street, who stopped him 
and asked, " as if there was but one death-bed in London, 
' Do you know, sir, if this is the street ^ where he is 
lying ? ' " According to the usual irony of destiny, it was 
while the working men were doing him this hearty and 

x\ri.j THE LAST YEAR. 169 

unconscious homage, that Sir Walter, whenever disturbed 
by the noises of the street, imagined himself at the polling- 
booth of Jedburgh, where the people had cried out, " Eurk 
Sir WaltcT." And it was while lying here, — onJy now 
and then uttering a few words, — that Mr. Lockhart says 
of him, " He expressed his will as determinedly as ever, 
and expressed it with the same apt and good-natured 
irony that he was wont to use." 

Sir Walter's great and urgent desire was to return to 
Abbotsford, and at last his physicians yielded. On the 
7th July he was lifted into his carriage, followed by his 
trembling and weeping daughters, and so taken to a 
steamboat, where the captain gave up his private cabin — 
a cabin on deck — for his use. He remained unconscious 
of any change till after his arrival in Edinburgh, when, 
on the 11th July, he was placed again in his carriage, and 
remained in it quite unconscious during the first two 
stages of the journey to Tweedside. But as the carriage 
entered the valley of the Gala, he began to look about him. 
Presently he murmured a name or two, " Gala water, 
surely, — Buckholm, — Torwoodlee." When the outline 
of the Eildon hills came in view, Scott's excitement was 
great, and when his eye caught the towers of Abbotsford, 
he sprang up with a cry of delight, and while the towers 
remained in sight it took his physician, his son-in-law, 
and his servant, to keep him in the carriage. Mr. Laidlaw 
was waiting for him, and he met him with a cry, " Ha ! 
Willie Laidlaw ! 0, man, how often I have thought of 
you ! " His dogs came round his chair and began to fawn 
on him and lick his hands, while Sir Walter smiled oi' 
sobbed over them. The next morning he was wheeled 
about his garden, and on the following morning was out 
in this way for a couple of hours ; within a day or two he 

17d SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

fancied that he could write again, hut on taking the pen into 
his hand, his fingers could not clasp it, and he sank back 
with tears rolling down his cheek. Later, when Laid- 
law said in his hearing that Sir Walter had had a little 
repose, he replied, " No, Willie; no repose for Sir Walter 
but in the grave." As the tears rushed from his eyes, his 
old pride revived. *' Friends," he said, " don't let me ex- 
pose myself — get me to bed, — that is the only place." 

After this Sir Walter never left his room. Occasionally 
he dropped off into delirium, and the old painful memory, — 
that cry of " Burk Sir Walter," — might be again heiird 
on his lips. He lingered, however, till the 21st Sep- 
tember, — more than two months from the day of his 
reaching home, and a year from the day of Wordsworth's 
arrival at Abbotsford before his departure for the ]\Ie- 
diterranean, with only one clear interval of conscious- 
ness, on Monday, the 17th September. On that day IMr. 
Lockhart was called to Sir Walter's bedside with the news 
that he had awakened in a state of composure and con- 
sciousness, and wished to see him. " ' Lockhart,' he said, 
* I may have but a minute to speak to you. My dear, 
be a good man, — be virtuous, — be religious,— be a good 
man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you 
come to lie here.* He paused, and I said, ' Shall I send 
for Sophia and Anne?' 'No,' said he, * don't disturb 
them. Poor souls ! I know they were up all night. 
God bless you all ! ' " With this he sank into a very 
tranquil sleep, and, indeed, he scarcely afterwards gave 
any sign of consciousness except for an instant on the 
arrival of his sons. And so four days afterwards, on the 
day of the autumnal equinox in 1832, at half -past one in 
the afternoon, on a glorious autumn day, with every 
window wide open, and the ripple of the Tweed over its 

xvi.] THE LAST YEAE. 171 

pebbles distinctly audible in his room, he passed away, 
and " his eldest son kissed and closed his eyes." He died 
a month after completing his sixty-first year. Nearly 
seven years earlier, on the 7th December, 1825, he had 
in his diary taken a survey of his own health in relation 
to the age reached by his father and other members of his 
family, and had stated as the result of his considerations, 
"Square the odds and good night, Sir Walter, about sixty. 
I care not if I leave my name unstained and my family 
property settled. Sat est vixisse." Thus he lived just a 
year — but a year of gradual death — beyond his own 

172 SIR WALTER SCOTT» [chap. 



Sir Walter certainly left his " name unstained," unless 
the serious mistakes natural to a sanguine temperament 
such as his, are to be counted as stains upon his name ; 
and if they are, where among the sons of men would 
you find many unstained names as noble as his with 
such a stain upon it? He was not only sensitively 
honourable in motive, but, when he found what evil his 
sanguine temper had worked, he used his gigantic powers 
to repair it, as Samson used his great strength to repair 
the mischief he had inadvertently done to Israel. But with 
all his exertions he had not, when death came upon him, 
cleared off much more than half his obligations. There 
was still 54,000/. to pay. But of this, 22,000Z. was 
secured in an insurance on his life, and there were besides 
a thousand pounds or two in the hands of the trustees, 
which had not been applied to the extinction of the debt. 
Mr. Cadell, his publisher, accordingly advanced the 
remaining 30,000Z. on the security of Sir Walter's copy- 
rights, and on the 21st February, 1833, the general 
creditors were paid in full, and Mr. Cadell remained the 
only creditor of the estate. In February, 1847, Sir 
Walter's son, the second baronet, died childless ; and in 
May, 1847, Mr. Cadell gave a discharge in full of all 


claims, including the bond for 10,000Z. executed by Sir 
"Walter during the struggles of Constable and Co. to 
prevent a failure, on the transfer to him of all the copy- 
rights of Sir Walter, including "the results of some 
literary exertions of the sole surviving executor," which 
I conjecture to mean the copyright of the admirable 
biography of Sir Walter Scott in ten volumes, to which I 
have made such a host of references — probably the most 
perfect specimen of a biography rich in great materials, 
which our language contains. And thus, nearly fifteen 
years after Sir Walter's death, the debt which, within six 
years, he had more than half discharged, was at last, 
through the value of the copyrights he had left behind 
him, finally extinguished, and the small estate of Abbots- 
ford left cleared. 

Sir Walter's effort to found a new house was even less 
successful than the effort to endow it. His eldest son 
died childless. In 1839 he went to Madras, as Lieutenant- 
Colonel of the 15th Hussars, and subsequently com- 
manded that regiment. He was as much beloved by the 
officers of his regiment as his father had been by his own 
friends, and was in every sense an accomplished soldier, 
and one whose greatest anxiety it was to promote the welfare 
of the privates as well as of the officers of his regiment. 
He took great pains in founding a library for the soldiers 
of his corps, and his only legacy out of his own family 
was one of lOOZ. to this library. The cause of his death 
was his having exposed himself rashly to the sun in a 
tiger-hunt, in August, 1846 ; he never recovered from the 
fever which was the immediate consequence. Ordered 
home for his health, he died near the Cape of Good Hope, 
on the 8th of February, 1847. His brother Charles died 
before him. He was rising rapidly in the diplomatic 

174 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

service, and was taken to Persia by Sir John MacNeill, on 
a diplomatic mission, as attache and private secretary. 
But the climate struck him down, and he died at Teheran, 
almost immediately on his arrival, on the 28th October, 
1841. Both the sisters had died previously. Anne 
Scott, the younger of the two, whose health had suffered 
greatly during the prolonged anxiety of her father's illness, 
died on the Midsummer-day of the year following her 
father's death ; and Sophia, Mrs. Lockhart, died on the 
17th May, 1837. Sir Walter's eldest grandchild, John 
Hugh Lockhart, for whom the Tales of a Grandfather 
were written, died before his grandfather ; indeed Sir 
Walter heard of the child's death at Naples. The second 
son, Walter Scott Lockhart Scott, a lieutenant in the 
army, died at Versailles, on the 10th January, 1853. 
Charlotte Harriet Jane Lockhart, who was married in 
1847 to James Robert Hope-Scott, and succeeded to the 
Abbotsford estate, died at Edinburgh, on the 26th 
October, 1858, leaving three children, of whom only one 
survives. Walter Michael and Margaret Anne Hope- 
Scott both died in infancy. The only direct descendant, 
therefore, of Sir Walter Scott, is now Mary Monica Hope- 
Scott who was born on the 2nd October, 1852, the 
grandchild of Mrs. Lockhart, and the great-grandchild of 
the founder of Abbotsford. 

There is something of irony in such a result of the 
Herculean labours of Scott to found and endow a new 
branch of the clan of Scott. When fifteen years after his 
death the estate was at length freed from debt, all his own 
children and the eldest of his grandchildren were dead ; 
and now forty-six years have elapsed, and there only re- 
mains one girl of his descendants to borrow his name and 
live in the halls of which he was so proud. And yet this, 


and this only, was wanting to give something of the gran- 
deur of tragedy to the end of Scott's great enterprise. He 
valued his works Kttle compared with the house and 
lands which they were to he the means of gaining for his 
descendants ; yet every end for which he struggled so 
gallantly is all but lost, while his works have gained more 
of added lustre from the losing battle which he fought so 
long, than they could ever have gained from his success. 

What there was in him of true grandeur could never 
have been seen, had the fifth act of his life been less 
tragic than it was. Generous, large-hearted, and mag- 
nanimous as Scott was, there was something in the days 
of his prosperity that fell short of what men need for their 
highest ideal of a strong man. Unbroken success, un- 
rivalled popularity, imaginative effort flowing almost as 
steadily as the current of a stream, — these are charac- 
teristics, which, even when enhanced as they were in his 
case, by the power to defy physical pain, and to live in 
his imaginative world when his body was writhing in 
torture, fail to touch the heroic point. And there was 
nothing in Scott, while he remained prosperous, to relieve 
adequately the glare of triumphant prosperity. His 
religious and moral feeling, though strong and sound, was 
purely regulative, and not always even regulative, where 
his inward principle was not reflected in the opinions of 
the society in which he lived. The finer spiritual ele- 
ment in Scott was relatively deficient, and so the 
strength of the natural man was almost too equal, com- 
plete, and glaring. Something that should " tame 
the glaring white " of that broad sunshine, was needed ; 
and in the years of reverse, when one gift after 
another was taken away, till at length what he called 
even his " magic wand " was broken, and the old man 

176 SIR WALTER SCOTT. [chap. 

struggled on to tlie last, "without bitterness, without 
defiance, without murmuring, but not without such sud- 
den flashes of subduing sweetness as melted away the 
anger of the teacher of his childhood, — that something 
seemed to be supplied. Till calamity came, Scott ap- 
peared to be a nearly complete natural man, and no 
more. Then first was perceived in him something above 
nature, something which could endure though every 
end in life for which he had fought so boldly should 
be defeated, — something which could endure and more 
than endure, which could shoot a soft transparence of 
its own through his years of darkness and decay. That 
there was nothing very elevated in Scott's personal or 
moral, or political or literary ends, — that he never for a 
moment thought of himself as one who was bound to 
leave the earth better than he found it, — that he never 
seems to have so much as contemplated a social or political 
reform for which he ought to contend, — that he lived to 
some extent like a child blowing soap-bubbles, the brightest 
and most gorgeous of which — the Abbotsford bubble — 
vanished before his eyes, is not a take-off from the 
charm of his career, but adds to it the very speciality of 
its fascination. For it was his entire unconsciousness of 
moral or spiritual efforts, the simple straightforward way 
in which he laboured for ends of the most ordinary kind, 
which made it clear how much greater the man was than 
his ends, how great was the mind and character which 
prosperity failed to display, but which became visible at 
once so soon as the storm came down and the night fell. 
Few men who battle avowedly for the right, battle for it 
with the calm fortitude, the cheerful equanimity, with 
which Scott battled to fulfil his engagements and to save 
his family from ruin. He stood high amongst those — 


" Who ever with a frolic welcome took 
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed 
Free hearts, free foreheads," 

among those who have been ahle to display — 

** One equal temper of heroic hearts 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'* 

And it was because the man was so much greater than the 
ends for which he strove, that there is a sort of grandeur 
in the tragic fate which denied them to him, and yet 
exhibited to all the world the infinite superiority of the 
striver himself to the toy he was thus passionately craving. 




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